To Catch a Killer

Filmmaker’s new TV series seeks to solve murders in the city he calls home.

By Aaron Kase
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 26 | Posted Oct. 19, 2010

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Photo by Jeff Fusco

On the front page of the Sept. 17 issue of Westside Weekly is a graphic photo of murder victim Rasul Gresham lying face down on the street, blood pooling from a head wound. “We hope this makes you sick,” editor Tyree Johnson wrote in the accompanying article. “We also hope this picture spurs you to do something about the violence.” Gresham, 32, was killed Sept. 16 while bicycling down the 5900 block of Pine Street. No arrests have been made in the case.

As of Oct. 6, 115 of the 248 murders committed in Philadelphia this year were still under investigation. Seventy-seven percent of victims in these unresolved cases are black males—79 percent of them under the age of 30. And of the 1,436 homicides in the city between 2006 and 2009, 558 remain unsolved. The numbers tell an old, yet pervasively disturbing story of inner-city violence tearing families and communities apart. Equally disturbing is the idea that there are potentially hundreds of murderers still out there on the streets.

The problem has persisted for decades, but West Philly native Grady Jones thinks he’s found a way to help. Sporting a closely cropped beard and hair just starting to grey, 45-year-old Jones says: “Nothing would please me more than to have some of these murders solved.”

Jones, founder of the start-up film studio Life Media Studios, is launching a television series called “Unsolved Philadelphia,” scheduled to debut in November on the city's four public access cable channels. “It’s kind of like America’s Most Wanted,” he says of the show, which is designed to spread information about killings in which the perps got away. The hope is that viewers will phone in tips about the crimes—information they were unwilling or unable to tell police.

“I guarantee there’s someone out there who knows something,” Jones says. “If you want to make a difference you need to be on television. You can reach so many more people.”

Each episode of the show will feature interviews with people close to the victims, discussing what they know about how their loved ones met their deaths. While the friends and family members tell their stories, the show alternates between the interviews and background images of the streets, homes and alleys that served as the settings for the gruesome crimes, which are re-enacted to give viewers a visual clue of what happened.

To help create the show, Jones enlisted a crew of longtime friends, including several he grew up with on the streets of West Philly and share his passion for the cause. Now in their 30s and 40s, Jones and his boys—Darryl Gresham, Earl Brooks, Ron Henry, David Daniels and Paul Smith—are ready to make their contribution to fighting crime in Philadelphia.

“People complain, ‘the cops aren’t doing this, the Mayor’s Office isn’t doing that,’” Smith says. “So why don’t we do something? We believe we can be the bridge between the community and the police.”

On a recent Saturday afternoon, the men gather inside Life Media’s Port Richmond studio to prepare for the first episode. The front room of the studio could easily double as a clubhouse. Located on the second floor of an old warehouse, the guys furnished the space with a conference table, pool table and a screening area, plus several recording studios down an unfinished hallway. Even when they aren’t working on a film project, they come to chill and watch football on the huge TV.

The fellas joke around while setting up the shoot.

“Turtle, stop breathing so heavy,” Jones says to Henry. “It’s getting picked up by the mic.”

Henry shakes his head and grimaces. Why Turtle? “Cause he’s slow motion,” Jones says.

Soon, though, the group gets down to the business of solving murders. They are interviewing for their first episode, featuring the story of Liliana Acevedo, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in North Philly last May.

Jones says the crew came across Acevedo’s story by accident last May. “We were driving around doing another shoot and I saw all these dolls on the sidewalk.” He stopped the car and jumped out to find a vigil for Acevedo, so he pulled out his camera to capture the scene for part of a separate documentary about violence.

“We looked across the street and saw some guys filming,” says Acevedo’s cousin, Kenny Gomez. The family and the filmmakers approached each other and Jones explained his idea for the unsolved-murders show. “We were overwhelmed … that Jones was out there trying to help out with open cases,” Gomez says. “It gave us a little relief at that time.”

Liliana Acevedo, 29, worked as an admissions clerk at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Her father, Wilfredo Acevedo, was a boxer who was killed in the ring when she was 5. She and her family still loved the sport, and gathered on May 1 at an aunt’s home to watch the Mayweather-Mosley fight. According to Gomez, Acevedo had just pulled up to the house at Third Street and Erie Avenue and must have gotten out of her car and opened the back door to get her bag when she was struck by a passing vehicle.

“We heard a thump,” says Maria Adames, Acevedo‘s aunt-in-law. “Everybody ran outside to see the commotion.” The family saw people crowding around a body in the street, but they didn’t realize the victim was one of their own until one of Acevedo’s nephews recognized her bags strewn across the asphalt. “By the time the rescue squad got there it was too late,” Adames says.

Down the street an outdoor party was taking place, and police and family members talked to everyone they could find, though they didn’t get much information. One man described a white, American-made “box style” car from the late ’80s or early ’90s with a few dents and scratches, but that was it.

“In these neighborhoods, nobody wants to speak out,” Gomez says.

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Comments 1 - 26 of 26
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1. Paige said... on Oct 20, 2010 at 08:13AM

“I think this is brilliant. Best of luck to the filmmakers”

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2. Betzy said... on Oct 20, 2010 at 11:07AM

“I can't thank you enough for putting these stories out there again.Your passion and dedication means so much to us, the families of these victims. As Liliana's cousin it breaks my heart to re-live all that happened to her but know this is the only way we will one day catch the person who took her from us. Again, thank you! God Bless & best wishes!!”

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3. Jnnttrivera said... on Oct 20, 2010 at 11:14AM

“What a BRILLIANT idea...Liliana Acevedo was my cousin/sister and we (the family) NEED CLOSURE....and we will not stop unitl we catch the monster who did this to her....RIP Liliy...Good Luck!!! =*(”

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4. Paul Smith (Life Media) said... on Oct 20, 2010 at 11:33AM

“Thanks for the kind words, we will do all we can to help Liliana's family find justice and that a criminal is held responsible. The answers lie in the community, we need one person to step up and we'll be here to assist.”

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5. Reese said... on Oct 20, 2010 at 11:43AM

“This is just amazing. Good luck to my fellow filmmakers.
I grew up with Lily and there's never a day that goes by that I don't think about her and want justice for her and her loved ones. You're doing an amazing thing for these families. God Bless!

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6. Ishshea J. said... on Oct 20, 2010 at 12:52PM

“Wowww!!, I'm really all smiles at this moment
I'm So proud of Grady Jones and the ENTIRE Life Media family. This is point the beginning for those guys, I can't wait to see what's Next!:)”

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7. pete. said... on Oct 20, 2010 at 12:54PM

“As a recovering racist, formerly dismissive
of black folks as ,"useless", I enjoyed this
story. Anytime I hear about black folks who
are conscious, and active in being an
example for positivity, I recover further
from deep hatred, and fear less. I used to
think that the only solution to the problem
of the inner city was brutal martial law, and
to a point I still carry that idea. Today I am
glad to hear that conscious black folks
are gradually doing something to counter-
act ,"thug culture". Alot of white folks have
deep suspicion of the ghetto and hold
private opinions that are not nice at all,
thankfully we have reports like this which
can give us hope for the future of a
segregated place like Philly.”

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8. Margie said... on Oct 20, 2010 at 12:55PM

“This is a wonderful idea. I get chills just reading the stories. Good luck to the film makers and God Bless!”

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9. Ronald Crawford said... on Oct 20, 2010 at 03:01PM

“Congrats to PW for writing "To Catch a Killer." A nontraditional strategy designed to address violence in Philadelphia deserves exposure. This type of strategy should be used because it's painfully (and dangerously) obvious that what's been tried so far isn't working. I'm a counselor who works in North Philadelphia with men who recently returned from incarceration. I wrote a book, "Who's the Best Rapper? Biggie, Jay-Z or Nas," that uses rap lyrics as a medium to increase literacy and teach basic counseling skills to those who don't read often but who listen to rap music. In the book, Many of those who commit (and are victims of) the murders in Philadelphia could make bettter behavior choices if they read more (or bettter) so that they could take advantage of educational opportunities or if they responded to feelings of anger better. Hopefully giving exposure to this film may result in PW giving exposure to my book. I've only been writing PW about it for 3 years.”

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10. Carol said... on Oct 20, 2010 at 09:14PM

“As a retired Police Detective from Phila. I feel this is a great idea. People don't realize the Police department can not catch people who commit theses crimes unless the public helps. They need witnesses, but witnesses are scared of retaliation if they testify. Well if you give a tip regarding info that you have, you are doing the right thing. You can help make Philly a better place to live.
Much luck to everyone involved in this project, it may not be easy but you will eventually get results. Everyone should help these guys and Police solve as many of these crimes as possible.”

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11. Kenny said... on Oct 20, 2010 at 09:20PM

“""Wow!!" - that was my reaction when I picked up the paper today. Hats off to Aaron Kase & PW for doing an awesome job with this article. But much respect to Grady and his LifeMedia team for taking on this uphill battle that noone would dare to step in the ring and take on! I'm Liliana's cousin and wanted to acknowledge LifeMedia for an awesome job that they're doing spotlighting unsolved crime in our city. There are too many families out there that have lost loved ones and have no closure. Wish you guys the best!”

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12. Aduh said... on Oct 21, 2010 at 08:27AM

“@ pete., you are probably one of the most idiotic commenters I have ever read. This is not a race issue. The culprit is poverty, lack of education, and/or lack of role models [hey, violence and racism have the same culprit, who'da known]. I commend you for 'recovering' from your racism, but honestly I'm not quite sure you have. Ugh, and please don't ever refer to neighborhoods you know nothing about [and have probably never even really been to] as the ghetto. People like you will continue to keep the 'segregated Philly' mindset alive. Basically, you are an idiot. I wish you all the best in your search for the truth. When you realize how in the dark you have been, you will truly be ashamed.”

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13. Dana Nieves said... on Oct 22, 2010 at 11:08AM

“Reading this information about Lilly gives me chills. I worked at St. Joseph's Hospital with her and she was a great person. It stuns me everyday that her killer still has not been found. I believe that this show will help alot with finding her killer. Something needs to be done because its just getting ridiculous out here on these streets. I don't know how anyone can live with that on there minds. Your presistence and dedication to find these killers is very much appreciated and I hope good things come from it!!!!”

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14. Isabel said... on Oct 22, 2010 at 02:48PM

“This is such a great idea!!!...I was born and raised in philly and moved to florida for a better life for my daughters, but I tend to visit every year and to see how its just keeps getting worse...I did not know lily although some of my cosuins did and it just hurts to know that they are hurting...I'm attending college to obtain my criminal justice degree and I am just about done and then I will be enrolled in the police academy...My biggest desire is to return home and and clean the streets that I once played, rode my bike, and had family cook outs while I knew I was safe. May God be with you on this project and I am deff going to keep you guys in mine this is an awesome project and all of you will be blessed...I hope the people of Philadelphia will realize that things will not get any better while their lips remained sealed. God Bless PW and life media...People will never know unless it is exposed lets bring this darkness into the light.”

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15. Shakira said... on Oct 23, 2010 at 12:16PM

“Thank you for your dedication to grieving families in Philadelphia seek justice for loved ones that they've lost do to senseless violence. Thank You”

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16. Latina said... on Oct 25, 2010 at 01:20PM

“I wish you all the best of luck and May God Bless You All for doing this. I was born and raised in Philly and as the years go by it just gets worse and worse. What you are doing is a start to put some closure for alot of famlies and for those who committed the crime get locked up and hopefully throw away the key. These animals need to pay for the crimes they commit.

Can you plssss tell me what channel you show will be on? And is this show only going to be aired in Philly or other states as well?”

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17. Kay said... on Oct 25, 2010 at 06:02PM

“That's great what they're doing. I'm terrified daily when my children leave for school until they return. It's sad that the city I once loved, I have to now leave because I am constantly worried for my daughters' safety. I feel sad for the ones who can't afford to leave and have to stay here in the city while it is on such a decline.

The only thing lacking in this article is the time, date a channels the show will be on.

Good luck to those gentlemen and I pray they stay safe.”

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18. PR Citizen said... on Oct 26, 2010 at 08:00PM

“I know that what these men are doing is a good thing. I truly hope and pray that the results they get from this surpass even their own expectations. These families deserve answers, these victims deserve justice, and us in the streets we deserve to be safe. So please do this and do it well. Let solving these murders always be your first priority. God Bless and Good luck.”

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19. Grady Jones/Life Media said... on Oct 27, 2010 at 08:40AM

“On behalf of Life Media, I would like to personally thank everyone for the kind words of support and encouragement. We truly hope we can make a difference and we pray we can help in bringing these families the much needed closure they deserve. The show "Unsolved Philadelphia" will premiere on Saturday, November 6th at 7:00 PM on Comcast Cable channels 66 & 966 and Verizon Fios channels 29 & 30. Again I thank everyone for their support. Let's make our City safe......God Bless....Grady Jones.”

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20. Happy 2b a PHILADELPHIAN said... on Oct 27, 2010 at 04:22PM


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21. Jeannie said... on Oct 28, 2010 at 08:39PM

“@ Grady Jones...I live in North Jersey, will I be able to watch the show or it's only in Philadelphia? I'm one of Liliana's cousin and I wanna thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing this for us and other families. May God continue to bless your heart and again THANK YOU!!!”

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22. sue said... on Nov 1, 2010 at 11:06AM

“I love this I hope the show works and some of these crimes are solved. While I live in the burbs I too have watched and suffered what has been happening in not just philly but all of Philadelphia and it breaks me heart. God speed and good luck. And right on aduh with ur comments to Pete, Pete you are an ignorant a**...”

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23. Allison said... on Nov 8, 2010 at 03:55PM

“Our own show dedicated to finding killers for our people in the inner city areas. True police need our help, but innocent people don't want to die for attempting to do the right thing. Until they can report without retaliation, things will not change. Also you should trust those in law enforcement. However they are people first and Police second as we are reading about some of their struggles. At the end of the day, we need to look to the Heaven for strength for this almighty fight. Much love and respect to you for taking on this venture. Good luck in the future.

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24. wifespurpose said... on Dec 16, 2010 at 12:11PM


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25. zenora said... on Dec 16, 2011 at 10:35PM

“Thank you to Life Media Studios. I hope you will continue to show what's happening here in Phila. This let's me know that there are professionals who really do CARE about the young lives bring Lost in the city. I don't have cable. Cannot watch the programs, but sincerely wish your production company the very best. Many blessings to you. Shareef Clarke murdered of South Philadelphiad my son, Jalil Harris on May 24, 2010, while walking away from an argument. W already know that God will handle it.”

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26. Rohiteshwar said... on Jun 1, 2012 at 05:44AM

“It's a brilliant thought to film makers to make movie on this topic.

[url=]Criminal Justice Degree[/url]”


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