By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Jones then escorted the boy upstairs to the bedroom. The teenager lay down on a mattress, and Jones took off the boy's shoes and pants, according to the victim's statement. Then Jones put the alleged victim's penis into his mouth. "[The teen] told Jones he wasn't with that and that he [wanted] to leave," according to the police report. Jones began to choke the boy, then turned him around and violated him, according to the victim's statement. The purported rape lasted about three hours. Every time the boy tried to leave, Jones choked him again.
The victim's mother filed the police report later that evening. Six weeks after the incident, Broward Assistant State Attorney Lauren Covitz declined to prosecute "because there is not reasonable likelihood of conviction," according to a memorandum obtained by New Times. Covitz believed it would be difficult to prove to a jury that sex was not consensual because the victim had spent the day "chillin'" with Jones and willingly followed him to the abandoned apartment. In addition, the state would also have had a difficult time prosecuting Jones for sexual battery against a mentally handicapped person because "we would have to prove that this person did not even understand the concept of sex," Covitz wrote in her memo. "In this case, we would not be able to do this as the victim has had sex before and understood what it meant to have sex with someone of the same gender."
Jones had apparently acquired a taste for young men. Around the same time that he was accused of raping and choking the mentally handicapped teenager, Jones struck up a friendship with a 24-year-old employee of Kitchens to Go.
One afternoon in July 2002, Keith Gross came over to Ken Walker's house in Victoria Park to borrow $20. Payday wasn't until next week, and Gross was short on cash. Gross brought a friend with him, a 40-year-old black man who looked young enough to be in his late 20s, Walker says. He wore his hair in long cornrows; his front teeth were capped in gold. He went by the nickname "Bam."
"What up?" Walker asked Bam.
They were "short-talking," as Walker puts it, conversing with one- or two-word phrases. But Gross' new friend didn't need to say many words for Walker to make his assessment: Bam Jones was one evil motherfucker. That judgment was quickly confirmed when Walker noticed a teardrop tattooed under Jones' left eye. Teardrop tattoos, traditionally associated with gangs, can signify either the loss of a friend or blood on the hands. Walker suspected the latter.
"I'm a brother. I've seen a lot of shit," Walker explains. "But he scared the hell out of me. I told Keith, I said, 'Keith, don't ever bring that guy to my house again.'"
"Oh, what is it, the gold teeth?" Walker remembers Gross asking. "Is it a black thing? You're black too, you know."
"It ain't a black thing," Walker told his friend. "There's something about him. I can feel it. Don't bring him back here again."
After Gross left in his new friend's white four-door Lincoln Town Car, Walker never saw Bam Jones again. Although Gross obeyed Walker's request by not bringing Jones over to Walker's house, he continued to spend time with him. "They smoked weed together," Walker admits, pausing as he collects his words. "That's what they did. That's what they had in common as far as I know."
Walker didn't have another reason to think about Jones until the afternoon of September 9, 2002. That was the day Gross didn't show up for work. "Seeing Keith," Walker says of that terrible day, "that will stay with me forever."
Mark Shotwell, a 46-year-old homicide detective with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, led the murder investigation. Due to the sexual nature and brutality of the crime, Shotwell believed the murderer had likely known the victim and was possibly a scorned gay lover.
Police posted pictures of Gross in gay bars throughout the city. "We are looking for leads and asking the gay community to help if they have any information," Shotwell commented to The Express, a weekly gay-oriented newspaper.
But the investigation, Walker contends, was off the mark from the beginning. The problem? Gross wasn't gay. "I don't think Keith had anything against gay people," Walker explains, "but I do know for sure that Keith never would have gone into a gay bar."
Yet Shotwell, who declined to discuss the specifics of his investigation with New Times, didn't listen. It seems the detective was skeptical of Walker. The Kitchens to Go owner was one of the prime suspects. In the three months after the murder, Shotwell interrogated the Fort Lauderdale businessman, whose only indiscretion was a 1998 charge of driving with a suspended license, three times and reviewed files on the company's computers, looking for any documents or e-mail correspondence that might offer clues to the murderer's identity. "He said I was a suspect because I found the body," Walker recalls. "But why would someone connect themselves to the crime scene?" All the while, Walker and Michael Gross were telling police they had their own theory: The murderer was Bam Jones.