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The impact of the double murders on Richmond and Cloverleaf Mall

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Late Edition: Crime Beat Chronicles

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In November of 1996, Cloverleaf Mall in Richmond, Virginia was the site of the still-unsolved double murder of Cheryl Edwards and Charlita Singleton, two mall employees found stabbed to death in the back office of the dollar store where they worked. In 2004, investigators briefly thought they'd uncovered new leads... that don't appear to have resulted in progress on the case. In the latest episode of Late Edition Crime Beat Chronicles, host Nat Cardona speaks with Scott Bass of the Richmond Times-Dispatch who extensively covered the mall's fallout from the double homicide and the impact it had on the surrounding community.

Episode transcript

Note: The following transcript was created by Adobe Premiere and may contain misspellings and other inaccuracies as it was generated automatically:

Hello and welcome to Late Edition Crime Beat Chronicles. I'm your host, Nat Cardona, and I'm happy to be back after a little bit of a hiatus. The last time you listened, I introduced you to the unsolved case of the Cloverleaf Mall stabbings in Richmond, Virginia. This week, I'm talking with Richmond Times Dispatch opinion editor Scott Bass, who extensively covered the mall's fallout from the double homicide and the impact it had on the surrounding community.

Tell me a little bit about yourself, your career now and when you first laid your hands on this topic and coverage and what you were doing then, because I know it's like 15 plus years ago, right? As far as what you were.

It was a long time. Right. I'm the Opinion Page editor at the Times Dispatch in Richmond. I've only been here for about a year. In essence, I've been a journalist in the Richmond area for almost 30 years now. Almost 30 years. So I've just kind of jumped around from place to place. I worked in magazine journalism for probably the bulk of my career.

Richmond Magazine There was a publication here as an alternative weekly called Style Weekly, where I worked for about ten years. Prior to that, I worked at the Small Daily out in Petersburg, Virginia, the Progress-Index, for about two years. And then, oddly enough, I started my career as a business reporter for a monthly that a weekly business journal called Inside Business.

And when the homicides took place in 96, I was I had just kind of started my career as a business journalist. Wasn't very good. Still learning. So most of my focus was kind of on the development side of things. In this particular mall was Richmond's first. The Richmond area's first sort of regional shopping destination was a reasonable shot.

We didn't have anything like it, and it kind of replaced in the Richmond area, you know, in most a lot of cities where, you know, the main shopping district was downtown in Richmond, it was Broad Street. And Broad Street had the military roads. It had a big, tall Hammer's big, beautiful department stores. It's where everyone kind of collected during the holidays.

It was the primary sort of retail shopping district. And then somewhere around, starting in the mid fifties, early sixties, shopping malls started to replace downtown retail districts as whites that not white flight, but as sort of the great suburban explosion took place after World War Two. Everyone moved out of urban areas into suburban the suburbs, and the retail sort of followed back.

And this was Cloverleaf Mall was our first sort of big regional shopping destination that was outside of East Broad Street, downtown.

And sort of a big deal.

Yeah, we were a little late. Like Richmond was always kind of wait things. So, you know, this opened and the first mall Cloverleaf opened in 1972. But right about this time, within three or four years, several malls had been kind of built, were built right after Regency or excuse me, right after Cloverleaf Mall was built in 72, the Regency Mall, which was a bigger, much nicer facility.

It was two stories that was built in 74 five. And then, oddly enough, Cloverleaf, which is located south of Richmond and Chesterfield County, which is sort of the biggest jurisdiction in our metro region, opened a second mall much further down the road, about three miles down the road from Cloverleaf, where there was nothing. It was a real tiny shopping strip with one anchor, and it did no business for several years.

They used to call it the Chesterfield morgue. But it's interesting because just as an aside, you mall development really took off in the fifties after Congress kind of passed this as a law, basically making it, allowing developers to depreciate real estate development really, really quickly. And that was in 54. And that just jumpstarted mall development. And all of a sudden there was an explosion.

Malls were built literally all over the country because it was very easy for developers to build a mall and get their money back paid off within a few years independent of how the mall actually was doing. From a retail perspective. So it just led to a proliferation of malls. And that's kind of what happened at Cloverleaf Club, which was the first.

But there were several others that had built up not far away. And slowly but surely it was eagerness. It started E Cloverleaf to launch. This cloverleaf was sort of on the edge of Richmond or just across the border, and that's in Chesterfield from Richmond. And there's an interesting racial history, too, obviously, in Virginia we have independent cities, which means that our cities are actually they have separate governments from the counties next to them.

Whereas if you go and everywhere else in the country, cities are tended to be centers of commerce that are part of another jurisdiction. In Virginia, we have independent cities, which means they have no connection whatsoever to the municipalities around them, which meant that in order for the city to grow, it had to annex the surrounding jurisdictions and its property residents.

And this had been going on in Virginia. And, you know, the first part of the 20th century, the last one of the last big annexations and I think it might have been the last one was the city of Richmond, annexing about 23 square miles of Chesterfield County in 1970. Chesterfield County is just south of the city, sort of south and east.

And they basically absorbed 23 square miles in about 40,000, 47,000 or so residents understanding that there was a racial backdrop here because this came a few years after desegregation and Richmond was sort of ground zero in massive resistance to segregation of integration in schools. And once that happened in the sixties, there was a white flight, a lot of white flight out of Richmond.

People just white folks just left and they moved into Chesterfield and Henrico and some of the surrounding jurisdictions. The sort of last gasp for Richmond to sort of maintain some of its tax base occur in 1970 with the annexation. But it was also an attempt to sort of bolster the white political structure because most of the residents that they absorb were white.

They were beginning to lose their political power. And that was a primary motivator for the annexation. The mall was built by Chesterfield Camp in Chesterfield County is kind of a big F-you to the city of Richmond. Like, okay, you can you took our land, you took our residents and we're going to build this big fancy mall and we're going to suck all the retail dollars out of the city into Chesterfield County.

That's the way a lot of people read that. So it's just she has an interesting history there. The location was just across the city border, the border with Richmond and Chesterfield. They wouldn't even allow busses to venture into Chesterfield County because the idea was to allow busses to come into the county. We're going to be allowing black folks to come here and no one wanted that because there was a lot of there was this perception that once black residents moved in to Chesterfield County, then, you know, everything was lost.

This was a difficult time for the Richmond region from a racial perspective, was not a healthy, healthy time or a place. So the mall had always had sort of this slight stigma attached to it in that regard. But in the very beginning, Cloverleaf Mall was really the center of fashion for a couple of years in Richmond. Everyone coalesced there.

You know, the local department stores, which had they had stores all up and down the East Coast, Tom Heimer and Miller Roads that were founded here for hire was there. Railroads came a little bit later and Richmond really was for a period of time, kind of a center of retail innovation. This was in the seventies, sixties and seventies.

A lot of the big, big format, big box stores kind of came out of Richmond and Circuit City best products. Back in those days. They were the kind of first to actually do big, big box retail. So it was an interesting time and an interesting place for Richmond because we had this history of sort of retail innovation in New York on the East Coast and in the south.

And the mall came along. It was a brand new concept and everyone's letter to the mall that lasted for a few years until the other malls started showing up and duplicating those efforts. And it just kind of splintered the market. The homicides came, I guess it was 96. So several years later, the mall was in decline, had been for several years as a sort of suburban development, really took off in Chesterfield further out where around that other mall that built in that direction.

So the mall completely mall was in decline, had been struggling. They had struggled to keep their department stores. They would leave, they would have new ones come in. It was difficult, but during the early nineties, things really started to take a turn.

Richmond at that time was becoming known as one of the murder capitals of the U.S. during the crack cocaine epidemic, and a lot of people in the surrounding jurisdictions kind of looked at Richmond as this dangerous place to be and it was drug infested. You didn't want to go into the city. And Cloverleaf kind of was right on the edge.

People kind of associated Richmond with Cloverleaf on some level. So it was in decline. People began to view Cloverleaf as a dangerous place or potentially a dangerous place. And then when the double homicides took place in 96, that was kind of the end of it. But a lot of the tenants at the mall decided not to renew their leases.

The decline just accelerated and that was, I think, most people who are here in Richmond, you can recall this time period, would agree that that double homicide was kind of the nail in the coffin for Clover Moore, for lack of a better word.

Sure. They only. We need to take a quick break, so don't go too far. See you all soon during your you know, your coverage of that and the decline and talking in the nineties, Do you have any recollection of what else was going on there? I mean, goofy things happen when there's like vacant stores and that kind of thing.

I mean, there had but like, like what didn't what was going on inside a, I mean, murderous aside, like as far as trouble, whatever you want to label it as.

There have been some, you know, some reports of, you know, teenagers walking around the mall intimidating, you know, shoppers, that kind of thing. The mall had changed in terms of the retail mix. So as as it became less of a destination and other malls had kind of cornered the market in more populous areas, the demographics around Cloverleaf were lower income.

You know, there was a higher black population, higher Latino population, and you started to see a change in retail mix. So you didn't have some of the higher end retailers or the big chains had already kind of breaking. So the gaps, you know, the limited and those kinds of stores had kind of long had and left the place.

So you ended up with smaller stores that didn't quite fill the spaces that had been originally, you know, it was designed for a larger footprint and it created more vacancies. And it became a place where, you know, people kind of viewed all that's at the mall is the low income, you know, mall for for people who don't have as much money.

And the clientele kind of matched that. And that's the way a lot of people used. CLOVERLEAF But the vacancies were there. I mean, I don't know that it was anything I don't recall any any other major episodes. There had been, I think, another where every now and then there would be a report of someone who had been fired or a gun or a shooting or something like that.

But it wasn't.

But thanks for clarifying that. Yeah, I just didn't know if there was like other stuff going on there. It's more just like we don't go there because it's more.

That's what made this case so bizarre, is because it was a state. It was a you know, I think they were both staffed at least ten times, from what I recall. And, you know, they they couldn't quite figure out sort of, well, who was this someone who was just passing through? Because it was kind of an it was right off of Chippenham Parkway, was close to the interstate.

Could this been someone who was just passing through where they're looking around? Who knows? But the fact that they were stabbed multiple times kind of raised the question of it seemed personal. There was nothing I mean, not I mean, they scoured I mean, the police really did put everything into this, as far as I recall. And they just kept coming up empty.

They couldn't that they had every lead that they had. There was a U-Haul at one point in the parking lot that it had been left unlocked with the lights on. I think that turned out to not be connected. They just they just got run into dead ends. And yeah, it's just bizarre. I have no one really ever I don't think that.

I suspect today they are not any closer than they were.

We know whatever happened in 2004 as a possible break in the case or we did, you know, obviously fizzled out. And it's been there almost 20 years since. So, yeah, it's definitely really.

30 years here.

Yeah. Yeah. Well, from 24 for there to be like this possible break. But that was like the last that we've seen.

Right. That's the most completely They gone now. They tore down that wall.

Right. So, so 1990. So November 1996, these murders happened. I was your one style Weekly article that I first came across was, you know, eight years later in 2004. So when you were covering that, where where was the mall at at that time? Was it about like literally on its last legs or.

Yes, it was. It was literally on this last legs. I mean, in terms of the other day, gosh, I can't recall who was actually if one of the department stores was still there.


Sears might have still been there in 2004. Okay. But I believe they were the last anchor. But yeah, at that point in time, I mean, you know, a lot of it becomes self-fulfilling prophecy. Chesterfield County had pegged it for redevelopment a few years earlier. And, you know, if you spend enough time talking about the mom and dad to your constituents and the news and with plans of what we're going to do to fix it, it kind of seals the enamel.

Yeah. And by 2004, it was done.


It was just a matter of who was going to pay for the redevelopment. Sure.

And then on as an aside to that on the fringe, it really could never shake that. This is the place where two women were murdered and they still don't know what happened. True.

Yeah. No, absolutely true. There was a real estate agent. Real estate agent or a commercial real estate broker. We followed all of this with me, and the story that I wrote made the comment that, you know, that was got death written all over it. And that was really true. Like no one wanted to touch them all. You couldn't get content to resign.

It just had this perception of being in a bad area. There's some racial undertones to it, of course, but by that point it was so far gone that I don't think anyone reasonably thought it could be resurrected as a retail destination.

Sure. And then do you have any idea how long that all in $1 store where they were murdered out? Like how long did that survive?

Any clue after they were murdered? Yeah, I don't imagine a real oak. That's a really good question. I don't know the answer to every you know. Have you talked have you tried to talk to Jay Latham?

I know that the feelers have been out with that. I he he would probably have more insight on that. Right.

He's a great interview. Yeah. And he actually had he did two stints there. So he was I thought he was the original loan manager, but he came in I think 75 or six, 76 somewhere. There came a couple of years after they left and then came back and he was the manager at the mall where the homicides took place.

And it was like a really crazy time period, really. He just returned five weeks before or something.

He hadn't been there long, and they were in the process of trying to revive it. So he worked for a Think Simon Property group, which is either just purchased the mall or believe it and have to go back and check. But yeah he was with a group that had was they had taken it over and they were had hopes of sort of reviving and then that happened and yeah, changed his plans.

So. Right, so what, what's there now.

They had this sort of mixed use thing. It's, there's a big Kroger, one of the biggest doesn't have me, there's nothing exciting there. They basically replace it with a mix of retail and residential and Chester County had gotten involved in issuing health issue bonds to kind of pay for some of the infrastructure and got Kroger to build. I think at the time it might still be one of the biggest Kroger's in Virginia and it's just massive Kroger marketplace.

And that was the big anchor. Well, interestingly, there is one little remnant of the mall still left, which is a tire shop that was part of the mall and it still has the old sixties and early seventies sort of architecture that refused to sell. And it's still there. And it's right in the middle of this sort of new development because they put him on kind of sticking out like a sore thumb.

So you can appreciate.

The entire place. Yeah, and it's exciting, but they're in the process of redeveloping the whole area now. You know, there's some stuff going to put it in a couple of ice skating rinks across the street and there's a big sort of office park that have been there for years. They're trying to interconnect their office park with some shopping district slash entertainment complex right next to it that's close to the mall.

You know.

This is like any to pop that in any city kind of thing.

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. What's different?

Right. Well, what's the what's the demographics in the area now?

It's still primarily it's not a high income. You know, the area of of just, you know, just was big is about 400 square miles. So it's a big, big footprint. The sort of the as the suburban development kind of shifted further out, you know, that there was sort of inner edge parts of both counties is just kind of, you know.

The one last thing that pops in my mind here is, I mean, I know you weren't a crime reporter and you are not one currently, but just for more context, because we're I'm not there and I know that Richmond was at one time, you know, the murder capital, like you say. Are there more cases like this? Like I just I guess it's interesting to me that there's so little coverage of an unsolved murder of two women at a mall, something so public.

And you know, seemingly random. And it's just like, is this? And I was just kind of one of those earmarked cases in the area that people like. Definitely. No, definitely remember like or other like tons of these. I just I just don't get it.

I think at the time I mean the be just what I remember of this time period, you know, Richmond was I think two years early. We had 160 murder incidents in a city of less than 200,000 people. It was a problem. We had a higher murder rate. So it wasn't it didn't happen often in Chesterfield, the jurisdictions around the city.

I mean, they always had it and we've always had issues, but not not 160 murders year. So when the Cleveland murders happened, I think it just kind of got lost a little bit. I was like, okay, it's there's a racial element to it. You know, if it were two white women, then there would be way more attention focused on it.

That's just tends to be the case. And because these were minority women who were found stabbed to death and all that, people had stopped caring about at least those with political power and stopped caring about allowing it to sort of just kind of drift. That's quite a bit of that here. No, it's almost.

Yeah. Is there anything else you just want to add about your realm of things in connection with cool relief?

Yeah, I'm so, I mean, you know, I hope it's I hope it's enough for you to sink your teeth into. And I guess I'm not having a lot of information about the actual case itself. I know Chesterfield was very close to the vest about what they were, what they would release the police department was. So I recall just kind of during when I was reporting on this, just kind of being in my head against the wall because they wanted this to be out there.

But they were very it was very difficult to get them to talk about some of the leads that they had and didn't have them. All that good stuff. You know, I think for me, just going back and looking at the the case itself, I was always fascinated with it. I mean, I'm I'm a local, you know, journalist, you know, So outside of Richmond, maybe you wouldn't care about such things.

But, you know, there are there are so many different layers to it from understanding like the connection between annexation and sort of the racial history. There was always like another layer to it that maybe I didn't think about or didn't realize until I went back and looked at everything again.

And that's all for now. Subscribe. So that you don't come back and you episodes cases are coming your way. 


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