The family that unwittingly harbored the city's most infamous murderers, then helped bring them to justice.by Melissa Scott Sinclair
LILLY ANN PAULEY didn't like surprises.
Didn't like strangers just showing up. Especially not on New Year's Day, when she was tired from a party at her brother's house the night before. The last thing she wanted was to come home to find two strange men at the Chesterfield County apartment she shared with her younger daughter, LaToya Pauley.
But there was no helping it: The men were already in her home.
LaToya had recently started dating Ray, the quiet one, whom she'd met through her friend Ashley Baskerville. The one with cornrows, Ricky, was Ray's uncle, although the two men were both 28.
They seemed gentlemanly enough. They said hello and helped Pauley carry in the groceries.
A thought flashed through Pauley's mind: “I hope these ain't the guys that killed those people” — the family she'd seen on television at her brother's house. But really, what were the chances of that?
Her misgivings faded when she went in her bedroom and found her visitors had left a hostess gift on the dresser: a plastic-wrapped plate of chocolate chip cookies.
“You could tell somebody had made them,” Pauley says. “They wasn't bought.”
The cookies were soft and chewy, studded with M&Ms. They were delicious.
After Gray and Dandridge were arrested, Larry Johnson told his mother, Lilly Ann Pauley, not to talk to anyone. “Just let me write your story,” he said. Photo by Scott Elmquist.IT WAS JANUARY 1, 2006.
All over Richmond, deadbolts were sliding home.
The entire city was shaken that New Year's Day by the news of the brutal killings of the Harvey family: 49-year-old musician Bryan; Kathryn, 39, co-owner of toy store World of Mirth; and their two young daughters, Stella, 9, and Ruby, 4.
Firefighters called to investigate a blaze at the family's brick house on 31st Street had stumbled over four bodies in the basement, shrouded in smoke.
Someone had bound and stabbed them. Someone had slashed their throats. Someone had struck them with claw hammers. Even the children, the two sweet girls.
Someone had walked right in the front door — left unlocked while the Harveys prepared to hold their annual New Year's party — and destroyed an innocent family.
Richmonders grieved. They raged. And they locked their doors.
But the killers had already found their haven.
IT WOULD BE nearly five years before Pauley spoke about what happened in her house that first week of 2006. Plenty of people wanted to hear the story, but Pauley only trusted one person to tell it: her son, Larry Johnson.
At the time of the Harvey family's murder, Johnson was halfway through a 10-year sentence at the Petersburg Federal Correctional Complex for crack cocaine distribution and firearms charges. In prison, he says, he discovered his true talent wasn't dealing — it was writing: “For me, the pen — that was my way, my outlet, you know what I'm saying? My freedom.”
In three months Johnson completed the first draft of a book about his mother's experience. When he was released from prison last year, the first thing he did was prepare it for print. He's finally ready to release the self-published book under his pen name, The Ghost, and he's bracing himself for the controversy that will follow.
“I'm ready,” he says. “I'm so ready. I've been born ready for this, this moment right here.” Now, he says, his mother's story needs to be told.
For six days, Gray and Dandridge hung around this apartment on Phillips Lane in Chesterfield County. Pauley says the two killers spent most of their time watching movies and smoking pot. Photo by Scott Elmquist.ON JANUARY 2, a Monday, Pauley was home with her 5-year-old grandson and the two visitors: Ricky Gray, nicknamed “Cooley,” and Ray Dandridge. LaToya and Baskerville had gone out to get their hair done.
Pauley didn't like the men playing with 'Lil Man. She took the child into her bedroom and shut the door while Gray and Dandridge watched TV in another room. When LaToya returned, Pauley took her aside. “Don't leave me in here with them!” she hissed.
LaToya and Baskerville made plans to go out with Gray and Dandridge that evening. Stay home, Pauley urged her daughter. LaToya reassured her that it was just dinner. They'd be back soon.
That night, Pauley sat by the window, watching the rain-spattered street and waiting for her daughter to come home. LaToya had no phone, so she called Baskerville's cell every 10 minutes. “I just had a bad, eerie feeling,” Pauley says.
LaToya later told her mother that the men had spent that night driving around the neighborhood, asking her if they knew anyone who had money, any houses they could rob. No, LaToya told them. She didn't.
Around 11 p.m., LaToya arrived home, alone. Glad to be rid of her visitors, Pauley told her daughter she didn't want to see Baskerville in her house again. The girl was disrespectful, a loudmouth. She'd once told handsome 'Lil Man that she couldn't wait till he turned 18. And there was something wrong with her Pauley couldn't quite put her finger on, “something terrible” in her eyes.
Tuesday morning, Gray and Dandridge showed up again at Pauley's house. Banned from the apartment, Baskerville sat in Gray's van and started clearing files off his PowerBook laptop. LaToya looked over her shoulder and caught sight of what her friend was deleting: a video of a white family opening gifts on Christmas Day.
LaToya came into her mother's bedroom and shut the door. In a low voice, she told Pauley what she'd just seen.
“Mom, I believe they killed the Harvey people,” she said. “You can't panic, Mom. You can't panic.”
Ray Joseph Dandridge (left) and Ricky Javon Gray brought Pauley gifts and played with her grandson. “Every victim, they used deceit,” notes Pauley's son, Larry Johnson. “Smiles, to get close to them. That was their tool.”I heard their voices coming from down stairs. I was wide awake now. I looked at my daughter and said, “If they killed those people then why the fuck is they still in my house!” I was taken aback.
LaToya quickly threw her hand over my mouth and demanded that I be quiet. I had never seen her so shaken before and from that moment on; I realized that things had just gotten real. My worst fears had come true. In a nut shell, she basically told me that our lives depended on me keeping it together and acting as though this conversation never happened.
My luck couldn't be this bad … but it was. We were housing cold blooded killers. — From “Cold Blooded” by The Ghost.
In frantic whispers, Pauley and her daughter debated what to do. They wanted to call the police, but feared Gray and Dandridge might find out and kill them. Or, they thought, the two men might have accomplices who would come after them.
So the women decided to wait. Watch, and wait.
PAULEY AND HER daughter settled into an uneasy routine while Gray and Dandridge came and went. “In, out. In, out,” Pauley says. They later learned that on Tuesday night, Gray, Dandridge and Baskerville had robbed a couple living on Hollywood Drive in Chesterfield County, taking a TV, a computer and $800 in cash. The husband, Roy Mason, convinced the gang not to tie him up because he needed to take care of his disabled wife.
LaToya kept thinking about the Harvey family, about the two little girls. She was careful to conceal her fear. “We played it off like we didn't know what was going on,” LaToya says, “and I think that's what kept us alive.” That and her family had nothing for Gray and Dandridge to steal, she says. They didn't know about the thousand dollars in cash Pauley had hidden in a drawer in her bedroom.
The visitors had given the family several gifts — a new TV, a DVD player, an educational video game that stayed glued to 'Lil Man's hands. Pauley grew ill as she realized all of it had come from the Harveys' house.
THE TWO MEN spent most of their time watching movies and smoking pot. They were considerate houseguests: Gray fixed the back gate and a leaky bathroom sink. Dandridge bought Pauley candles and a new remote control. He played with her grandson. He even started calling her “Mom,” Pauley recalls.
Dandridge was a sweet guy, LaToya thought when she first started dating him in late December. Quiet and meek, he seemed afraid of his uncle.
Gray was anything but sweet. But he took a shine to Sugar, Pauley's vicious white pit bull. Sugar was loyal to her family alone — the dog had taken a bullet in the chest a few years earlier defending the house from a burglar. “No stranger couldn't touch her,” Pauley says. And here was Gray, feeding the dog turkey and rubbing her belly.
One day, Gray asked Pauley to make him a sweet potato pie. He said he'd never had one.
Pauley wasn't about to say no. Gray went to the grocery store for the ingredients, and Pauley labored in the kitchen to make his pie. But Gray was in a bad mood. He said the pie wasn't done. Then he said the plastic pie cutter Pauley handed him wasn't sharp enough. “This joint right here not even cutting,” he said.
Then I tell him that he had better use that pie cutter. I had no intentions of putting my knife in his greasy palm. As we're standing there having this back and forth dispute over the knife, I can feel LaToya's stern eye on him. There was a stoned face look about her, almost menacing. Was this the shock before the hour; the moment I'd been dreading?
I imagined the Harvey's final moments, possibly they didn't have a fighting chance but I did. The knife was in my hand and for one split second, I pondered the idea of giving him a dose of his own medicine.
Pauley shoved the pan at Gray. “Take the whole pie with you,” she said.
LaToya Pauley, photographed in Detroit, moved away from Richmond after her family's ordeal. Her mother told her not to bring her new boyfriend to the house, she says: “If I had listened to my mom, none of this would have happened.” Photo by Regina H. Boone.THE TWO WOMEN were about to snap. Gray and Dandridge had lingered in the house for nearly a week. They kept asking about an income-tax refund check LaToya was expecting in the mail. Dandridge had been dropping hints to LaToya that Gray had killed some people, some children.
When Gray found out his nephew had been talking, he hit Dandridge in the head, raising a knot. “You don't tell nobody nothing,” he raged.
At last, on Jan. 6, the family's freedom came in sight. Gray, Dandridge and Baskerville announced they were leaving for Philadelphia. They said they'd be back in a couple of weeks.
While Pauley watched them drive away, she says, it felt “like I had the weight of the world lifted off of me.” But she and LaToya couldn't shake their concerns about Baskerville. They'd heard her talking about setting up Gray and Dandridge to rob her mother, Mary Baskerville-Tucker, and the stepfather she disliked, Percyell Tucker. Dandridge had told LaToya that Gray was thinking about killing Baskerville.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because she's getting on his nerves,” Dandridge said. Baskerville kept nagging him for money, and Gray was sick of it.
“I didn't really think he was serious,” LaToya says. But when LaToya called Dandridge the afternoon of Jan. 6, he said something chilling: “Ashley gone bye-bye.”
LaToya called Baskerville's cell phone 10 times. No answer.
That's when Pauley called the police. She told them all about Gray and Dandridge, told them where they were headed. Police tapped LaToya's phone and recorded a conversation with Dandridge. He said they'd tied up Baskerville's family.
“And what y'all do?” LaToya asked.
“Can't say that on the phone, boo,” Dandridge replied.
Police rushed to the home on East Broad Rock Boulevard, but it was too late. Ashley Baskerville lay dead on the floor of her parents' back bedroom, bound with duct tape, a plastic grocery bag wrapped tightly around her head. Someone had placed a pillow under her head. Her mother and her stepfather had been bound, stabbed, gagged and suffocated.
“She dug a hole for her family, and she fell in it right along with them,” Pauley says.
Gray and Dandridge were heading north in Percyell Tucker's green 1993 Chevy Blazer. But now, because of Pauley and her daughter, police knew where to find them. They'd traced a phone number used by Gray to an address on North Wanamaker Street in south Philadelphia.
Early in the morning of Jan. 7, a Philadelphia police team entered the ramshackle row house where they believed the men were staying. Police captured Dandridge, and found Gray hiding behind a water heater in the basement. Gray was smirking, one officer later testified, and kept dropping his hand into the darkness, feinting as if he had a gun. He struggled with police, then was subdued with pepper spray and handcuffed.
After sitting all day in silence in an interrogation room, Gray confessed to Philadelphia Detective Howard Peterman. Gray explained how on Jan. 1 he, Dandridge and Baskerville had been driving around looking for a house to rob, and had seen the Harveys' unlocked door. He and Dandridge told the family to go into the basement. They had complied and allowed themselves to be bound with tape. The Harveys lay there, helpless, while Dandridge ransacked the house. Then Gray did something he said, later, he could not explain.
“I started cutting their throats and they kept getting up and they was scaring me,” he told Peterman. “I remember seeing the hammer and picking it up, and then, I don't know who I hit first. … All I know is nobody was moving when I left out there.”
The men hadn't taken much, Gray said. Some computers, a little money. Bryan Harvey's wedding ring, which would end up on Baskerville's cold finger. And a plate of chocolate chip cookies Kathryn and her youngest daughter had baked together on New Year's Eve. The cookies Pauley had found on her dresser.
As Richmond police triumphantly announced the capture of Gray and Dandridge to a community still reeling from the tragedy, Pauley and her family were in protective custody at the Suburban Extended Stay Hotel on West Broad Street.
The grateful detectives had promised Pauley and her family the world, she says. One jubilant detective said to her, “You made us superstars,” Pauley says. Police told her they'd get her a car. A new home. A job. She also expected to receive the $6,000 reward that had been advertised for information leading to the Harveys' murderers. (Pauley says she was unaware of the reward when she first called the police.)
What she got instead was more than eight weeks holed up in a hotel. And a nasty surprise. Watching television in the room one night, Pauley was shocked to see her own apartment on the news. The station played the phone call LaToya had made to Dandridge, and flashed LaToya's full name on the screen. “I could not believe it,” Pauley said.
They promised us that we would be a shadow; no one would connect us to this high profile case. Neither LaToya nor I would have to testify. … We gave them all the tools needed to apprehend and convict both killers and what did we get in return? Betrayal!
Victoria Benjamin, general counsel for the Richmond Police Department, says it's the department's policy not to disclose what it does for individuals who assist with an investigation. Benjamin says she was unable to locate any records by press time pertaining to the $6,000 reward Pauley says she deserves. Benjamin notes that private residents, not the police department, put up the reward money for information leading to an arrest.
Two months after Gray and Dandridge were apprehended, Pauley says, police said they had no more money left to put the family up: “They literally threw us out of the hotel and made us go back to the apartment.”
Pauley returned to her townhouse on Phillips Lane, just off Cogbill Road. The place had been ransacked by police and stalked by media. She hated being there, she says; it felt like “a death house.” With a Section 8 housing voucher the police helped her obtain, she found a new apartment in March and began preparing to move.
When Pauley was packing up everything in the bathroom, she noticed something odd. “I see a black handle hanging off the medicine cabinet,” she says. Stepping up on the bathtub, she reached for the handle and discovered a long jagged knife, smeared with dried blood and wrapped in a washcloth. Horrified, Pauley dropped the knife and ran from the bathroom. Police later came to pick it up.
In August 2006 Gray was tried for the murders of the Harvey family. The knife Pauley found was never entered as evidence in Gray's trial, and Pauley and her daughter were not called as witnesses. Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Learned Barry says he doesn't recall ever speaking with them. The prosecution's linchpin was Gray's confession in Philadelphia, Barry says: “Without that, it would have been a nightmare.”
While in prison for crack cocaine distribution, Larry Johnson says he found his calling as a writer. Under the pen name The Ghost, he's self-published one novel and written eight other fiction manuscripts. Photo by Scott Elmquist.PAULEY'S SON, Larry Johnson, was worried. The one person he could always reach from prison was his mother — and he hadn't spoken to her in weeks. His family wouldn't tell him what was going on. Finally, his older sister's boyfriend broke down on the phone. “I can't do it no more,” he said. In tears, Pauley told her son the whole story: the killers, the police, the press.
Johnson felt like a caged lion. “I was mad. I was furious,” he says. “To hear that these people were mistreating my family like this. Just because they were women. Even because they were black, poor, inexperienced.”
His trusted prison counselor suggested he voluntarily go into solitary. “Just go lay it down,” the counselor said. “Just go to the hole, man, till you can get your mind together.”
Instead, Johnson sat in his cell, in the dark, and meditated. “I need to write this,” he decided. He called Pauley and told her not to talk to anyone. For the next three months, he spent five hours every night writing his mother's story with a ballpoint pen in a notebook.
As a kid, Johnson never thought he'd be a writer. He wanted to be a boxer, or a football player. But he didn't know any professional athletes in Church Hill, South Side and Hillside Court. He knew gangsters.
“So that's what I wanted to be,” he says. “A drug dealer. That's what I could be. I tried my hand. Didn't work.” At the age of 21, Johnson was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.
That's when he started writing. Although he'd dropped out of school in sixth grade, he got his GED while in prison. He read every day and studied the dictionary.
Johnson wrote his first novel, “Tribulation of a Ghetto Kid,” in 2003, based in part on his turbulent childhood. He wrote nine unpublished novels while in prison, all under a pen name, The Ghost.
Released from prison in 2009, Johnson immediately began typing and revising his one work of nonfiction, the story of his mother's ordeal. He called it “Cold Blooded… The New Year's Day Massacre.” The title, he says, is an homage to Truman Capote's book “In Cold Blood,” the 1966 account of the murders of a Kansas farming family by two escaped convicts. The book was Capote's professional breakthrough — and Johnson hopes “Cold Blooded” will be his. The self-published book, written by The Ghost, is due to hit Amazon.com on November 15.
Johnson says he's not writing the book to shock people or be sensational. It's about telling the truth, he says, and letting people know what his mother sacrificed. It's about giving her a voice: “Her story needs to be told.”
I didn't ask for any of the things they promised but once they promised it, I expected it. Am I wrong for that? Shouldn't I be compensated for the sacrifices I've had to make? How many other victims would there have been if it wasn't for me? There was no end in sight for those boys and if I hadn't made that call when I did, more blood would've been spilled.
He knows the story will be controversial. He expects the police to try to discredit his version of events. But Johnson says he's not afraid. He's been through prison, after all. He's been shot five times, the first time when he was 14.
“It's not how far I've fallen, but it's how high I've bounced back. I know I have a past, a dark past,” Johnson says. “But that has nothing to do with the truth.”
RAY DANDRIDGE PLEADED guilty to seven murders: the Harveys, the Tuckers and Ashley Baskerville. He's serving a life sentence at the maximum-security Red Onion State Prison.
Ricky Gray was convicted of five counts of capital murder and sentenced to death for the killings of Stella and Ruby Harvey. He's on death row at Sussex I State Prison. In a recent letter to Style Weekly, Gray says his one regular visitor, a minister, no longer comes to see him twice a month. He writes: “All movement is controled they have guns an dogs everywhar I go Im in chains.”
Gray confessed to other crimes in addition to the murder of the Harveys and the Tuckers. First was the November 2005 murder of his wife, Treva Gray. He beat her with a pipe, while Dandridge held her down, because she was talking about her recent rape: “She was telling me things and I didn't know how to deal with it,” he told police.
Then there was the New Year's Eve stabbing of Ryan Carey, a 25-year-old who was on his way to his parents' house in Arlington. Gray is also suspected of having killed Sheryl Warner, 37, in her Culpeper home in December 2005, but the case against him was dropped because of insufficient physical evidence.
Larry Johnson, 32, is still writing. He's enrolled in the computer technician program at Centura College, and hopes to start a career so he can support his family and his two teenaged sons.
LaToya Pauley moved to Detroit three years ago. “I just wanted to get away,” she says. She's not sure what effect the ordeal had on her son, now 8, she says: “If he remembers, he never talked about it.”
Lilly Ann Pauley lives in Henrico County with her brother and her oldest grandson. She often thinks about those six days, she says. She sleeps with her bedroom door locked. And she never lets a stranger in the house.