JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (AP) — From the night of Nov. 6, 1978 – when his sister, Maxine Ellen Andrews, was murdered in Johnstown’s Cambria City neighborhood – until just a few days ago, the Rev. Clarence J. Washington never read a newspaper article about her death.
But he recently acquired copies of stories – a few of which he looked through during a conversation at Harrigan’s Café & Wine Deck – that provided some insight into what happened.
Gathering them has been part of his attempt to find out information concerning the unsolved homicide that took place outside of Ace’s Lounge.
He has been motivated by his daughter, who is urging him to learn what happened to his sister – and concerning the recent deaths of young Black Americans that have helped spark the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I never wanted to do anything with it,” Washington said.
“I think with all of the Black Lives Matter stuff that started happening in March, and April and May, and people talking about innocent people being killed – that started to stir stuff up in me again. And, of course, my daughter, who is named after her, always heard me talk about my sister, and said, ‘Why don’t you just satisfy your curiosity? Why don’t you just go and see what’s going on?’ ”
Washington explained that he has “a lot more questions than answers.”
“When I was 18 years old, I didn’t want to hear a whole lot of answers,” said Washington, a reverend who now lives in Delaware. “I was just angry. And, at 60, I’m curious. I guess I’m still angry, because my sister’s still dead and there’s still no one that has been found. There was never a motive that’s really been explained to me or my family. If they did explain it to my mom and dad, they never really discussed it with me.”
‘Who killed her?’
When Washington was a boy, his sister worked for a while as an elevator operator at Glosser Bros. Department Store in downtown Johnstown.
Sometimes, on days when he had free time after school, Washington would go to the store and ride along with Andrews, who was 11 years older than him.
“That was my little thing,” Washington said. “If I didn’t want to walk right home, if I didn’t have a lot of homework or didn’t have practice, I knew Max was at work, so I’d go down and just ride the elevator. She’d make me pretend like I was a customer when people got on. When they got off, she would laugh and she’d make me laugh. Then people would get on and she’d say, ‘OK, young man, you have to get off at the next stop.’ And she knew I wasn’t going to get off.
“She’d just make jokes like that. She just had a fun personality.”
He also described his sister as an outgoing, no-nonsense, personable woman – good at sports, including softball – with a diverse group of friends who “looked like the United Nations.”
While Washington was close to his sister, there was part of Andrews’ life – her sexual orientation – that he is still not certain about.
“In 1978, I didn’t know what gay was,” Washington said. “But apparently, if I look back on it now, and if somebody said that she was a lesbian, then I’d believe it. She had a lot of female friends. She did have boyfriends, guys that were around here. But, if someone said that was true, I’d believe them.
“That was part of the investigation that I think that the police or someone told my mom that made everything seem to stop. I don’t know if they intimidated my mom with that, or if in stating it my mom didn’t want to go any further, or if they didn’t go any further as far as the investigation. The stories again that I heard, as an 18-year-old, was that it was a love triangle, a lesbian love triangle, and that’s what got Maxine killed. My thing at 60 is, OK, if that’s true, who killed her?”
Night of the shooting
Andrews, 29, arrived at an apartment above Ace’s between 6 and 7 p.m. on that night in November 1978, according to news reports at the time.
Later, Andrews and a 20-year-old woman were preparing to leave when a lone gunman approached their vehicle from behind. The name of the woman, who was in the driver’s seat of a car, was spelled multiple ways in news accounts – Jerry (or Jerri) Swartzenstruver (or Swartzentruver).
According to a statement from an investigating officer quoted in The Tribune-Democrat, “She (the woman in the driver’s seat) was in the process of backing up when she saw a man with a gun walking down the sidewalk. She dove down on Maxine’s lap. She heard one shot, and she thought she heard another shot.”
In a follow-up interview, though, the woman reportedly said she only saw a gun.
“Some of the questions that always surrounded our family was – what really happened that night?” Washington said.
“Somebody’s in the car with you? They don’t get touched? And the person that’s in the car ... says she saw the gunman?
“You saw a gun and you knew it was a gun that quick and you were able to duck, but my sister didn’t get any warning or anything?”
The shooting occurred around 9:30 p.m.
Andrews, who was in the passenger’s seat, was pronounced dead at the scene at 9:55 p.m., a single slug having struck her in the neck, severing her spinal cord.
Washington said his parents learned about the murder when it was reported on the late-night local news.
“That’s how my mother found out that her daughter was dead,” Washington said. “She was sitting on the couch with my father, watching the 11 o’clock news, and she hears a report that her daughter, that Maxine Ellen Andrews, was shot and killed in front of Ace’s.”
His mother collapsed, Washington said. His father revived her.
Washington, who was away attending Lock Haven University, soon afterward received a call from his family, telling him about his sister’s death.
‘Help me sleep’
Andrews’ murder was one of four homicides committed in or near Cambria City within a seven-year span. Washington wonders if they might be connected.
• Barbara Mangus was killed in December 1974, her body eventually found in the Hinckston Run Dam Area. The murder remains unsolved.
• On June 15, 1980, an interracial couple, Arthur Dale Smothers, 22, and his girlfriend, Kathleen Mikula, 16, were shot and killed on the Washington Street Bridge, near the Roosevelt Boulevard intersection.
In 1998, serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin confessed in prison to the Smothers and Mikula shootings, which were committed by a gunman on the nearby hillside. Nobody was actually ever convicted of the murders.
Franklin, a known white-supremacist, was executed for other murders in 2013.
Washington has considered the possibility of a link existing among the three incidents.
“I wonder if anybody ever put that together,” Washington said.
“Was there someone down in that area that was violent?”
Washington questions if those possibilities or others were explored during the ongoing investigation, asking whether it was a “rushed case, swept under the rug.”
“I need to know I’m wrong,” Washington said. “I need to know that it was thoroughly investigated.”
Beyond the legal aspect, Washington wants a resolution for personal reasons.
“I would have nightmares that she’s in the car screaming and I’m running,” he said. “She’s yelling ‘help, help.’ And, of course, every time I get there, she’s bloody and the cops are quarantined off. ‘Get away, get away, get away.’ I never saw any news footage, but it’s me trying to get to the car, get to my sister. My wife wakes me up when I’m screaming. ‘What’s going on?’ And I make stuff up. ‘Is somebody breaking into the house?’ and all that kind of stuff.
“My closure is to help me sleep at night.”
Information from: The Tribune-Democrat, http://www.tribune-democrat.com