Crimes of the Cape Fear: Homeless man, mistaken for rapist, stomped to death by Wilmington bouncers
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - In 2004, young women living in downtown Wilmington were on edge. One woman told police she’d been raped by a stranger who broke into her house and appeared to be homeless. More than half a dozen other women living nearby reported a man fitting the same description had attempted to sexually assault them too. The downtown area was plastered with posters of an artist’s rendering of the man police were looking for.
On November 29, Barry Mintz and David Allen, who both worked as bouncers at a downtown nightclub, called The Liquid Room, were enjoying their night off. They’d been drinking heavily, and were walking through downtown shortly after 2 a.m., when they claimed to hear a woman scream. Although they told police they didn’t see the woman, they then began chasing a man down an alley who they thought fit the description of the rapist.
The chase quickly turned into an attack. Bartender Kathleen Francis, who’d just left her shift at Velvet, happened to look into the alley as she walked by.
“[She] actually knew them because they were bouncers downtown. She thought as she walked by the alley that they were breaking down boxes. That they were literally stomping cardboard boxes to flatten them. And then she realized in horror that beneath their feet was not a box but it was a human being,” New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David recalled of Francis’ eyewitness account.
Francis called 911. So did Ira Blaustein, a photographer who was working in his downtown studio, which backed up to the alley where the attack was happening. He would later tell jurors what he overheard that night. In addition to grunts from the person being attacked, he heard the attackers saying, “Kick him”; “Is he dead?”; “Is he breathing?”; and “Crush his skull.”
Wilmington police officers arrived within minutes. When the suspects attempted to run, they found themselves trapped in an alley that backed up to the federal courthouse. Their escape was blocked by a brick wall, and they were caught red-handed.
The man they’d left dying on the ground was Joe Bradshaw, a 42-year-old from a large, loving family in a rural community nearby. He had a home there but chose to spend his summers living on the streets in Wilmington. Bradshaw had nothing to do with the attacks on young women in downtown Wilmington, but his similar appearance to the sexual predator police were looking for cost him his life.
“The defendants, David Allen and Barry Mintz, played judge, jury and executioner against a totally innocent person,” David recalled of the very first case he prosecuted after being elected district attorney. “I wanted to send a message that if people have concerns that others have committed a crime, I want them to report that crime and not take the law into their own hands.”
Bradshaw never regained consciousness from the brutal attack, and died from severe head injuries in a nursing home a few months later. An autopsy revealed he also suffered broken ribs during the attack.
Meanwhile, a DNA hit from the scene of one of the break-ins and sexual assaults led police to arrest the real predator terrorizing downtown women: Jerome Bostic.
When interviewed by WECT shortly after his arrest, Bostic said he never raped anyone, and it’s worth noting he was not convicted of rape. But ultimately, he pleaded guilty to multiple burglary and attempted second-degree rape charges. He is serving a 44-year prison term, and continues to be cited for infractions behind bars, including several for sexual assault, according to state prison records.
For trying to administer justice to the wrong man, Mintz and Allen had court dates of their own. They both claimed to have been impaired during the attack. While they brutalized an innocent man, they said they were trying to protect young women from a sexual predator. Ironically, Bostic had been arrested two months prior to the attack. Whether or not Mintz and Allen knew that is an open question.
“This was never going to be a ‘whodunit?’ David said of formulating a plan to prosecute them. “It was going to be a ‘what do you call it?’ And we called it first-degree murder.”
Allen agreed to a plea bargain from the state. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and received a sentence of nearly 20 years behind bars. He was released from prison last month, and did not respond to a request for an interview.
Mintz decided to take his chances with a jury. It was a gamble he would lose. After finding him guilty of first-degree murder, a judge sentenced Mintz to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“The way he treated my uncle, and the repetitive stomping and beating and kicking of my uncle, it made me deal with it better to know that he’s going to have a long time to think about it,” a relative of Bradshaw’s told WECT at the courthouse after the verdict came down.
“We frequently say that nobody is above the law. But I also want to remind this community that nobody is beneath the law’s protection, particularly someone who is homeless, living in the shadows,” David said when reflecting on the case.
The tragedy prompted local authorities to take a look at a bigger issue: an out-of-control homeless population which was overwhelming Wilmington’s resources at the time. The situation was putting the homeless population and residents at large at risk.
Because the suspect in the sexual assaults was described as homeless, residents in the city became more suspicious than usual of vagrants living downtown. And because of the surging homeless population, petty crimes associated with homelessness were on the rise.
Trying to get to the bottom of the homeless population surge, then-Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous discovered that many of the people living on the streets of Wilmington were not from here, but had been bussed to Wilmington by other towns. Officials learned that Helping Hands Ministry in Myrtle Beach was buying one-way bus tickets to Wilmington, shipping their homeless here and telling them Wilmington had better resources for them.
Evangelous and David contacted that ministry to explain the problems their program was creating, and convinced the charity to stop the practice of shipping homeless people here. David said it prompted local officials to renew their focus on taking care of our own homeless population. And Bradshaw’s senseless death also prompted the community to focus on the homeless as people, and not just a problem to be dealt with.
“This had to be a very terrifying thing for him because he died alone in an alley late at night with two total strangers pummeling him,” David said. “This alley — was Joe Bradshaw’s home that night. And it exploded the myth that everyone who is homeless is dealing with a chemical dependency or mentally ill.”
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