It's been a year since the death of Ella Crawley, who was found brutally beaten in a Winston-Salem park and died a short time later. Crawley's death became part of a local public outcry for Black victims of crime.
Her murder remains unsolved. Now the rallying call has gone from “speak out” to “speak up.”
She was found in Gateway Commons Park. It's a slice of green space on the northern edge of downtown Winston-Salem. It's a popular place for walking and enjoying a bit of outside quiet in the middle of the city.
Last year, it was also a place where people turned to express their grief and seek solace.
Anita Miles is a former police officer turned activist. She was among those who spoke during a rally seeking justice for women in the wake of Crawley's death.
“I will stand for anybody regardless of their color when there is injustice,” Miles told the crowd. "Justice is supposed to be colorblind, but I see more of my Black brothers and Black sisters dying on the streets of Winston-Salem.”
Miles was speaking close to where 50-year-old Ella Crawley had been found just days earlier. She later died in a hospital. An autopsy found she had also been strangled. The rally was part of the community's reaction to Crawley's death.
A year later the case remains unsolved.
Crawley died on May 24, 2020. The next day George Floyd died while being restrained by Minneapolis police, sparking a nationwide outcry over how mostly white officers handle encounters with Black people that continues to this day. Crawley was Black, and the neighborhood where she was found is predominantly Black.
Getting information has been tough, says Detective Steve Ashburn.
“We've had minimal cooperation with the community," he says. "There was no defined suspect, nobody that was in a relationship with Miss Crawley at the time. So the suspect pool is pretty wide open.”
Weeks after Crawley was found police gathered at a nearby church and canvassed the neighborhood to see if anyone knew something that might help solve the case. Ashburn says nothing new came from that effort.
Gregory Dorn is the Winston-Salem police lieutenant over homicide investigations. He says he's hoping the anniversary of the case will revive it in people's minds so that Crawley and her family can find justice.
“Somebody heard something, saw something somewhere either in jail or somebody on the street," he says. “Many agencies define a month of time period or so for a cold case. Technically I guess if you look at it, we'd say yes, it's gone cold, but that doesn't mean we would close these cases or put them on the back burner.”
Crawley lived a troubled life. There were times when the park where she was found was the closest thing she had to a home. And while much of Gateway Commons is open space, there are also tree-shrouded places that are hidden from view.
Crawley's death was an anomaly compared to other cases that drove people into the streets in protest last summer. It didn't happen during incarceration or police custody. And it wasn't a white-on-Black crime as far as anyone knows. Nothing is publicly known about her killer.
And yet her lonely death sparked something — outrage, sadness, empathy that called out to people to gather in her name.
City Councilwoman D.D. Adams grew up just a short walk away from the area that is now Gateway Commons Park. She says the outpouring of concern over Crawley's death was related to her status as a Black woman.
"Black women always had to get out and fight for whatever we can get," she says. "And even though it might not be a big win for us, whatever we're fighting for, we still fight. And Miss Crawley, her death touched on the vulnerability of black women in our spirit. When one dies, one goes missing, one is harmed, it affects each of us deeply."
Adams says she understands the concerns of some people in the community about cooperating with the police, but she says speaking up is the only way the case will ever be solved.
"We still work hard at trying to find people, trying to find somebody that heard something, saw something, felt something," she says. "Let us know. You don't even have to call the Winston-Salem PD, call somebody that you know, and just let them know. And they may be the ones that pushed the button and say, 'You know what, that conversation didn't sound right. I need to let somebody know that I heard this.' And it might be important to helping to resolve this tragedy."
Crawley's unsolved murder has already prompted some changes at Gateway Commons Park. New lights are coming to help make the park safer at night, and surveillance cameras may also be added.