Since moving from South Philadelphia to Ardmore two years ago, Michael Gall and his wife Lisa never expected to see the face of their old neighbor, Keith Hardy, ever again—and, frankly, that would have been fine with them.
But there he was, looking wild-eyed in a mugshot posted online next to a story about a bartender who had been stabbed to death in South Philadelphia. Hardy, 57, was one of two men arrested in the June 24 murder of 44-year-old George Fox, who was killed during a robbery at T-Barr’s Bar on the 2200 block of S. Eighth Street when he picked up a shift after not working there for three years.
“Oh my god, that’s him!” Michael thought when he clicked on the Yahoo headline and saw the photo of Hardy, eyes glassy, hair unkempt, lips open, as if surprised.
“He looked defeated,” Lisa says.
Hardy was a key figure on the Galls’ old block, a stretch of South Philadelphia along Seventh Street between Tasker and Morris that, in hindsight, the Galls call “the twilight zone” or “the black hole.” For the three years they lasted, they watched as people moved in, then quietly, and quickly, moved back out.
Lisa, 32, says it seemed the rest of South Philly—that is, the South Philly where they had pictured living—was happily bustling right alongside them one block in any direction. But their block felt like it “went off a cliff.”
The trouble began in fall 2009 when Hardy, who lived across the street from the Galls, politely offered to fix two old bicycles the couple picked up at a Goodwill store. The transaction appealed to the Galls, community-minded musicians who sing together in the band A Fistful of Sugar. They recall Hardy told them: “I’m unemployed right now and I don’t know you guys very well, and you don’t know me, but I used to work at a bike shop and can use the money to fix your bikes. I’ll charge you $50 plus parts.”
Michael says that a couple weeks later, Hardy invited them up to his crumbling apartment to show off his progress.
“The first thing you notice when you get into the apartment was a very old-looking baby’s crib sitting in the middle of the front room filled with puzzles that were in frames,” recalls Michael.
One bike was repaired, and they took it back. Hardy told them he had made a mistake with the second one and he needed more time to fix it. But then the bike vanished, and Hardy explained it was stolen by someone he owed money to.
“As I see it, he either owed me my money back, or a bike,” says Michael.
Michael would knock on his door, makeshift receipt in hand. Hardy avoided them.
“That’s when he started to get scarier,” says Michael. The Galls got nervous. They say after the bike disappeared, Hardy started to mention crossbars, knives, people he hurt. Lisa says he also often brought up medical tests or appointments to show how he was trying to help himself. “It turns out, the puzzles were part of his therapy,” she says.
Michael says the threats turned direct. “Like, ‘I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you or your pretty little wife.’” When he went to the police, though, he says he was advised to drop the complaint.
A few months later, Michael says Hardy came over to the Galls’ house acting frantic and insisting Michael give him $50. The couple were up late making cookies for their wedding two days later, and they just wanted to be left alone. Michael handed Hardy the cash to go away.
The Galls say the problems with their block were bigger than Hardy. The outside light above their steps was always broken, and the darkness attracted random people who sometimes got loud and confrontational. Michael says he was constantly asking strangers to clear off his porch.
Word of the couple’s beef with Hardy spread, and people would ask them whose “side” they were on.
PPD spokesman Ray Evers calls the Galls’ old neighborhood an “interesting area” and says crime-wise, it’s not one of the “bad” areas but it has more “mid-level type crimes going on,” such as drug dealing.
“If cops come in and it gets heated, we try to calm a situation down,” says Evers, about neighbors calling the PPD over disputes. “Sometimes things escalate and sometimes things get settled and …. the neighbors just don’t want to deal with it.” He suggests complainants try community outreach team for their district: “They’ll try to use some conflict resolution.”