Last week, a grim scene unfolded in South Memphis. On the morning of Wednesday, September 16th, the body of 25-year-old Juanita Gilmore was found in Hollywood Cemetery by someone visiting a grave. The discovery is eerily similar to a string of murders that took place in the same area in 2011.
According to court records, Gilmore, who was found with multiple stab wounds, had a history of prostitution arrests. Similarly, four women who were killed in the same area within a month's time in early 2011 were also considered to be known prostitutes. Two of those women, 28-year-old Jessica Lewis and 44-year-old Rhonda Wells, were found dead at Mt. Carmel Cemetery a few days apart from one another, on February 20th and February 24th, 2011, just across a set of railroad tracks from Hollywood Cemetery.
Two weeks before the discoveries of Lewis and Wells, the body of 31-year-old Tamakia McKinney was found in the middle of Hemlock Street, less than a mile from Mt. Carmel. It was also reported that another prostitute, Marnicia Shaw, was found dead inside a hotel room on Brooks Road on February 12th, 2011.
Following those murders, a fifth woman, a prostitute who went only by Katrina, was shot and left for dead on Ledger Street, again, less than a mile from the cemeteries where Lewis and Wells, and more recently Gilmore, were found. Katrina survived and was able to give police a description of the suspect. According to reports at the time, the murders were briefly investigated as having been potentially committed by a serial killer, though, according to the Memphis Police Department (MPD), there was a lack of connecting evidence.
The cases soon disappeared from the public eye, and according to those close to the victims, seemingly from the eyes of MPD detectives, as well. No arrests were ever made, and the cases have gone unsolved for nearly five years.
For friends and family of the 2011 murder victims, the recent discovery of Gilmore has added fuel to the fire for justice.
Brandy Sullivan, a close friend of Lewis, wants people to know that Lewis' life was just as important as anyone else's, despite her criminal history. "People want to throw prostitutes aside just because they're not deemed important to society," Sullivan says. "But she was so much more than that. She was a daughter, a mother, a friend."
Lewis excelled in college, had been employed at a prestigious local hospital, and was, for the most part, a model citizen before becoming addicted to drugs, the first step down a dark spiral that would ultimately lead to her death.
"Jessica was such a bubbly, happy, beautiful, smart woman. It's not like she was wayward her whole life," Sullivan says. "Drug addiction can happen to anybody; it doesn't matter what your background is. She just got pulled into that, and she couldn't pull herself out."
Sullivan says the circumstances surrounding Gilmore's death are too close to the others to go unnoticed.
"It seems like not enough attention was given to the similarities of all the murders in 2011," she says. "And this new murder should spark a huge new investigation."
The MPD did not respond to requests for comment on the Gilmore investigation or investigations into the 2011 murders by press time. Although it hasn't been proven the murders were connected, Sullivan believes they may be.
"What I want is to see the person responsible; I want to be able to look at them and say, 'You killed my friend. You hurt these women,'" Sullivan says. "It feels like the pain will never go away until someone is held responsible."