WASHINGTON - Eighteen years after Karl Rogers Jr. was shot to death on a Northeast D.C. street, his grandmother refuses to let the killer get away with his murder. Carole Birckhead has kept meticulous notes, written letters to politicians and has even investigated the case herself. But to date, no one has been held accountable for taking the life of her grandson.
On March 27, 1999, Rogers was found killed inside his 1984 Ford Mustang. Over 18 years later, Birckhead and Karl Rogers Sr. now stand on the corner of 45th Street and Eads Place that was once a crime scene.
In Birckhead’s hand is the family’s case file that contains the names of possible suspects and witnesses Karl Jr.’s father, herself and other family members have collected in the days after his death.
“Girl/woman says she passed Karl in the car three or four times late Friday night. Who is she? What time? What else did she see?” Birckhead read from the case file.
We asked Birckhead how they know this information.
"Because people were talking,” she said. “Neighborhood people talk.”
Karl’s grandmother said she turned the information over to the police.
"Nobody was telling the police anything and I think mainly because they didn't trust the people down at [the Sixth District of the Metropolitan Police Department]," she said.
At the time, there were mistakes in at least two high-profile murder cases in the Sixth District and forced then-Police Chief Charles Ramsey to remove the man in charge – Lt. Robert Tate. He was transferred to patrol.
It is the same district where Karl was killed.
"They didn't care,” said Birckhead. “Karl was just another young black kid in Northeast D.C. It didn't make any difference to them. He didn't matter. He wasn't worth much. Well, he was worth a lot to us.”
Karl Rogers Jr. split his youth between Northeast D.C. and Prince George's County where he graduated from Suitland High School.
"A typical teenager as he got older,” Birckhead said. “He was interested in art. He used to do a lot of drawing. He drew cartoon characters and comic strips and made stories out of them. He would write poems and songs.
“He was the love of my life because he was my first grandson and I was lost after he was gone.”
After high school, Karl told his father he wanted to start his own business. He wanted to be a barber.
"Barbers make good money, but if you are going to be a barber, you can't rent a chair for your career,” Karl’s father said he told his son.
The two decided they would invest in a shop and put the family name on it. But those dreams came to an end when the 19-year-old was found shot to death in the driver’s seat of his car. He had gunshot wounds to the head and neck.
Investigators now believe he was shot during the night before he was found. Despite the fact someone called 911 to report the sound of gunshots, Karl’s body was not discovered until after 8 a.m. the following day.
"I don't know whether he was alive a part of that time, crying for his mom, his dad, begging for his grandma to come and get him,” said Birckhead. "I think they botched that investigation from the start. They didn't give one good damn about my child. Not one.”
A few days after Karl was killed, his aunt Cynthia, who lives around the corner from the crime scene, got a phone call from a woman who said she knew who killed Karl. She said she lived on the corner and was watching from her window. But she said her parents were concerned for her safety and did not want her to come forward with the information. She also said she could not trust the police down at the Sixth District to protect her.
Eighteen years later, the family still does not know who that caller was.
However, Karl’s family and the police did come up with a motive. They believe he was likely killed in retaliation for a fight that took place on the porch of a home where Karl stayed at times with his aunt. The 19-year-old went after a man named Kevin who was hurling insults at a girl on the porch.
"I hear he got knocked out,” said Karl’s father.
Karl Rogers Sr. said two weeks later, his son was killed.
All of this information with names and nicknames were turned over to the police.
"I do know that there are detectives in the Major Case/Cold Case Unit that have spoken with the family in the past,” said D.C. Police Lt. Anthony Haythe. “I have spoken with certain detectives that have. I encourage them to keep the faith and let’s just hope and encourage others in that area in the 4500 block of Eads or who may have that information to come forward.”
Haythe said he has assigned a new detective to review the case.
FOX 5 made contact with the original detective in the case. Michael Baylor declined an on-camera interview, but defended his investigation saying the “no-snitching” code of the streets hindered his work and he was never able to learn the name of or interview the man Karl had a fight with.
"I am absolutely bitter because I think he missed an opportunity to solve this case,” said Birckhead. “It was different to have something like that happen so close to home around so many people that knew not only Karl but knew my daughters, knew my son and knew me. So that was devastating.”
There is a $30,000 reward for anyone who can help police solve this case – $25,000 from police and $5,000 from Karl’s family.