Where a dated-looking wooden sign once marked the entrance to the Fairmont Terrace apartment complex, a vinyl banner boasts a new name: Savanna Landing.
Just a block northwest from 61st Street and Peoria Avenue, an area often maligned in recent years for violent crime, the road to the property is lined with apartment buildings behind fences, and in practically every direction from there, it’s more of the same.
As in other low-income areas of the city, pedestrians walking to bus stops or carrying grocery bags from nearby stores are a common sight.
Area residents have noticed more foot traffic during the day, a sign that people are feeling safer, several residents told The Frontier.
Three years ago, four women were slain at Fairmont Terrace in an apparently drug-related robbery.
“That one did take the cake,” said Daryl Kelley, 27, of the quadruple homicide. Kelley works at the Kwick Stop convenience store a block south of Savanna Landing.
During the preceding two years, four men were gunned down in separate shootings at the complex, including one by a Tulsa police officer, and five other victims were fatally shot within a half-mile radius.
No other killings have been reported at the property since the deaths of Julie Jackson, 55; Misty Nunley, 33; Kayetie Powell Melchor, 23; and her twin sister Rebeika Powell, 23, on Jan. 7, 2013.
Brothers James and Cedric Poore are charged with first-degree murder and robbery in the case. James Poore’s jury trial is scheduled to begin Monday.
Betty Winston, 69, stands near the front door of her apartment at Savanna Landing as she recalls the days after the quadruple homicide.
At first she and her daughter, who is also a resident, thought the oldest victim couldn’t have been Julie Jackson because the age reported in the media was off and none of the names had been released.
Then she got an emotional phone call from her daughter: “It was her, it was our Julie.”
“It’s just like losing a member of your family,” said Winston. Pictures of loved ones hang on the wall behind her.
The crime shook people up and many residents moved, but Fairmont had been her home for years so she stayed put.
The only problems she’s had since then have been with noisy neighbors.
“We have our good days and sometimes we have our bad days,” Winston said with a shrug and a laugh.
“Today was a quiet day. … When it’s hot, they (other residents) act up,” mostly by playing loud music, she said.
CRIME NUMBERS VARY
The Tulsa Police Department is preparing a grant proposal for $1 million to address crime in the area of 61st and Peoria. Part of the department’s research process was preparing monthly crime statistics for the area between 56th and 64th streets from Utica Avenue to Riverside Drive from 2010 to 2015.
In that time period, reports of aggravated assault — or assault with a weapon — more than doubled to 75 in 2015 from 36 in 2010.
Robberies decreased by half while rape reports held steady in the single digits.
Property crimes, such as burglary, larceny and auto theft, showed some reduction overall but are climbing back upward after lows in either 2013 or 2014.
Homicides have fallen significantly since the beginning of the decade.
One woman was fatally stabbed near 1300 E. 64th St. in 2014, and a man was shot and killed along 61st Street in March 2015.
Another victim is believed to have died from exposure while his alleged assailants drove his pickup in the area for several days last June with him bound inside its covered bed.
Kelley and Kevin Byrd, his co-worker at the Kwick Stop, have seen noticeable changes for the better over the last year, they said.
“It used to be people didn’t want to come down here” to 61st and Peoria, Kelley said.
Kelley has worked at the store about a year but Byrd has been a familiar face to its customers for more than a decade. Kelley has lived in the area on and off for most of his life, he said.
“It was like the slums. It was all trashy,” said Byrd’s wife, Ramona Price.
A more noticeable police presence in the neighborhood has reduced loitering at area businesses, helping customers feel safer, Kelley said.
A few days later, on a Wednesday night, The Frontier joined Tulsa Police Officer J.W. Sherrill on patrol. Sherrill has worked for the department 17 years, about half of those with the Riverside Division, which encompasses the 61st and Peoria neighborhood.
“I love 61st and Peoria; there’s always something going on,” he said.
But this night is unusually quiet. Sherrill helps a stranded motorist push her car out of traffic. The scanner buzzes about a five-car wreck near 51st and Peoria.
As he loops through Savanna Landing, he parks at a building near the back and heads down the steps to two semi-basement level apartments. To the left, one door lies off its hinges, a broken bulge around the door knob shows the force squatters used to pry their way inside. The door to the right is still standing, but unlocked.
Both units are littered with food containers, paper and a few cast-off pieces of furniture, or what’s left of them. No one’s inside.
“We don’t get a whole lot of calls out here,” which he credits to the lower occupancy level.
When the occupancy here or at any of the surrounding complexes nears capacity, “there’s going to be friction,” Sherrill said.
“It’s a concentrated environment of people who want to cause problems. … The sad part is there are good people around here, (too).”
In April 2015, the Millennia Companies of Cleveland, Ohio, which oversees both development and management of Savanna Landing, took ownership of the 40-year-old complex. Since then, the property’s guard shack is no longer being used.
Instead, security personnel patrol the grounds in the evening and overnight and off-duty police officers are on-site periodically throughout the day, said Julie Bartold, executive vice president of Millennia Housing Management.
Bartold said she finds the current security model most efficient for the complex. A stringent vetting procedure for new tenants and approximately 75 evictions the company completed have also improved the quality of residents, she said. Management also evicted several squatters.
Physical improvements are in the works but much of Millennia’s time and resources thus far have been spent “stabilizing” the property, restoring necessities such as hot water, heat and air conditioning to buildings, Bartold said.
City Councilor Jeannie Cue, who represents the area, is ready to see visible outward changes at the site.
“We (she and Councilor G.T. Bynum) need to have a meeting with them because there’s been some issues that have come up and some promises made that haven’t been fulfilled,” specifically increased safety and rehabilitation to the property, she said.
She remains hopeful for a good partnership between the City Council and Millennia, Cue said.
Bartold said the units’ kitchens, bathrooms and flooring are slated for replacement in the coming months. Also, the property’s balconies will likely be removed for “security and safety reasons.”
Millennia has received upwards of $14 million in federal grant money to fund the improvements, which could take up to 18 months to complete.
“The property itself will look completely different by the time we’re done,” Bartold said.
As Bartold spoke with The Frontier, a church group had arrived to set up for its weekly storytime visit to read to preschool-aged children at Savanna Landing.
Residents, management and sometimes outside organizations work together to coordinate events, usually for the children and youth. Winston spoke excitedly of the upcoming Easter holiday when an egg hunt will be held.
Cue credits many social service agencies and church groups with improving the quality of life in the area.
The South Tulsa Community House at 57th Street and Peoria Avenue is a one-stop shop for residents to access food bank offerings, Restore Hope Ministries and Emergency Infant Services as well as job search assistance and classes to prepare for GED testing or learn English as a Second Language. They also hold community dinners and monthly Crime Coalition meetings, said executive director Gerri Inman.
Violent crime is not as prevalent in the area as some residents in other parts of the city assume, she said.
“Our neighbors feel safe,” Inman said.
The next step is boosting economic development and bringing more jobs to 61st and Peoria, Inman said.
Sherrill agrees putting more people to work would improve the area. He’s an advocate of lower taxes for small business owners as a means of creating jobs.
“(It) would allow small business owners to hire more employees. Jobs for some of these people would curb crimes,” he said.
61st STREET & PEORIA HOMICIDES 2011-2016
|June 21, 2015||Chazz Holly||6100 S. Peoria Ave.|
|March 7, 2015||Jorge Zuniga||1000 E. 61st St.|
|March 13, 2014||Helen Johnson||1300 E. 64th St.|
|Nov. 2, 2013||Kenson St. Remy||1200 E. 63rd St.|
|May 25, 2013||Ronald Harris||6200 S. Quaker Ave.|
|June 5, 2013||Kenneth Chenney||6200 S. Quaker Ave.|
|Jan. 7, 2013||Kayetie Powell Melchor, Rebeika Powell, Julie Jackson, Misty Nunley||5800 S. Owasso Ave.|
|Sept. 27, 2012||Robert Long||5800 S. Owasso Ave.|
|Sept. 11, 2012||Shametra Fields||1200 E. 63rd St.|
|Aug. 25, 2012||Quincy Jones||1000 E. 60th St.|
|March 22, 2012||Matthew Boddy||1100 E. 61th St.|
|Dec. 14, 2011||Victoria Turcios||1200 E. 63rd St.|
|Dec. 6, 2011||Demont Payne||1000 E. 60th Place|
|May 31, 2011||Vernon Benson||1000 E. 64th Place|
|March 18, 2011||Ahmad Thompson||1000 E. 64th Place|
|March 16, 2011||Marvin Alexander||1100 E. 60th Place|