Today we’ll be finding ourselves in West Baltimore, Maryland. Have you ever been to Baltimore, Willy? I have never been, so I did a little research, specifically about West Baltimore. To put it bluntly, West Baltimore is not a great place to grow up. It is notorious for violent and drug-related crime, and is the setting for the TV crime show The Wire. Most travel websites I read recommended that you stay away from the West Baltimore area.
West Baltimore is also the city where Freddie Gray was arrested and eventually died in 2015. For those who aren’t aware, Freddie Gray was a black man who died while in police custody due to injuries to his spinal cord, which led to accusations of unnecessary force by police. That, of course, is not an adequate summary of the situation, but today’s case is not the case of Freddie Gray.
Now I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that West Baltimore isn’t all bad. In fact, Thurgood Marshall, the first black justice on the United States Supreme Court came from West Baltimore. West Baltimore is also an epicenter of African-American culture and history as well. However, for the most part, West Baltimore is unfortunately best known for its violence, although I did also read about some organizations that are working to help change the culture of violence and crime in the city.
Today we’re going to be talking about a boy who had the misfortune of growing up in West Baltimore. Garnell Moore was born on my half birthday in 1995, which of course you’re already aware is May 18th. Neither of his parents were ever involved in his life, as his mother was incarcerated for drug charges and his father lived a transient lifestyle, so until August of 2001, he lived with his father’s relatives in West Baltimore. He lived with them in a two-story red brick row house on Harlem Avenue, and from what I’ve been able to tell, the care he received there was inadequate for a small child.
Garnell had an older half-sister named LaTonya, but even though they shared a mother, he never got to live with her. LaTonya and her two younger sisters lived in northeast Baltimore with Trina Morton, who was Garnell’s maternal aunt, and who we’ll also come to find out is one of the only people who seemed to care about little Garnell. Garnell used to go visit Trina and LaTonya, and they would describe him as a playful, hyper boy who liked playing with toy cars and action figures.
In August 2001, then six-year-old Garnell was taken to live with an aunt on his father’s side named Belinda Cash. At the time, Belinda was not married and she had no other children, but strangely, this placement was incredibly informal and Belinda was never given legal guardianship over Garnell. It’s unclear what Garnell’s life was like while living in Belinda’s house, because the two weren’t very well connected to the rest of the family.
The last time Garnell’s maternal aunt Trina Morton saw him, it was either August of 2001 or August of 2002, so either the same month he went to live with Belinda, or a year later. The sources I was reading were really unclear about a lot of the dates in this story, so I’m doing my best approximation of what makes the most sense.
Anyway, the last time Trina Morton saw Garnell, he was playing outside his home when Trina came by to pick up two of his sisters. Trina had expected to see Garnell the following weekend when he came to stay with her for a few days, but the visit never occurred because Trina, who was pregnant at the time, went into labor. The week after the visit was supposed to have occurred, Trina tried to reschedule Garnell’s visit, but Belinda told her that this wasn’t a good time for a visit because she and Garnell were planning to move.
After this interaction, family members began to lose contact with Garnell, though to be fair, some of this wasn’t their fault. From what I could tell, it seems like Trina wanted to be in contact with Garnell, but the only phone number she had for Belinda was disconnected. And then, after Belinda and Garnell moved to a new house, Trina found that the new address Belinda had given her was false.
Eventually, sometime around 2005, Garnell’s father Harold Moore gave Trina the contact information for one of Belinda’s relatives. Trina got a hold of that relative, who then reported that she hadn’t seen Garnell in years. This caused Trina to become seriously concerned for her little nephew, so she went door-to-door down Harlem Avenue, asking if anyone had seen Belinda and Garnell. She completely struck out. Trina also contacted local social services for assistance, but they told her there was nothing they could do because there was no reason to believe that Garnell was a child in need of care. After all, they told her, just because Trina hadn’t seen him recently didn’t mean he was in danger.
Trina was able to get an updated address for Belinda from that one relative of Belinda’s I mentioned earlier. Trina confronted Belinda at her home in a public housing development and demanded to see the boy, who would have been around ten years old by this point. Cash said that Garnell was on a school trip to a place called King’s Dominion in Virginia. This immediately made Trina suspicious, as it was the weekend, which was an unlikely time for a school trip, and also because it was the middle of June, which was when school would have been out for summer.
Trina reached out to social services again, this time to see if they could visit Belinda’s home to see if Garnell was safe there with her. And again, they said they couldn’t do anything for her because they couldn’t just barge into people’s homes on a whim. Trina didn’t give up, though. She called the local schools to see if he’d been enrolled in any of them, but confidentiality laws kept her from receiving information. After that, she tried to get juvenile services involved, but they weren’t able to help her out because she wasn’t Garnell’s legal guardian.
Finally—FINALLY—in March of 2006, after almost a year of Trina searching for her nephew with no help whatsoever, the Baltimore police’s Missing Person’s Unit became involved in the case. The police were able to find out some information regarding Garnell and his “guardian” Belinda Cash. Between 2001 and 2005, Cash bounced back and forth from the home on Harlem Avenue where she lived when Garnell first came to live with her to the public housing development where Trina confronted Belinda, which was about a mile away. When questioned, people who lived in the public housing development would tell police that they saw Garnell with cash a few times in 2001, and that she had claimed him as her son.
Police also spoke with Garnell’s father Harold, who reported that he and his girlfriend had seen little Garnell at a family gathering around Easter in either 2002 or 2003. He also told them that he would visit his other children, but that he wasn’t able to visit Garnell because he didn’t have an address or contact information for Belinda.
Police were also able to find out some more information regarding Belinda Cash, who over the years had been known to use different last names. While Belinda had no significant criminal history and no history of child abuse, it was discovered that she never enrolled Garnell in school. Detectives from Baltimore PD would speak with Belinda many times during their investigation into Garnell’s disappearance. She told them that the financial burden of caring for Garnell had become so great that she could no longer handle it. So, she reported that in the summer of 2005, she left Garnell on the steps of a social services office in west Baltimore and never saw him again.
The detectives who interviewed Belinda followed up on this story and found that not only did the address she gave them not exist, but that no social services agency in Baltimore reported a child being left on their front doorstep the way she described. In fact, Garnell Moore was never on the radar of any social services agency at all, either before he disappeared or after.
In April of 2006, a month after police became involved in the case, the police went to the Harlem Avenue address where Garnell and Belinda had lived and searched the place with cadaver dogs to see if Garnell had been abandoned there. While the house was a shambles, they found nothing there. The boy was just gone.
The mystery into what happened to Garnell goes deeper. While Belinda took a lie detector test regarding the story she gave police, she also told family members various other stories that were different from the one she told police. And to this day, no one really knows what happened to Garnell Moore. He just disappeared gradually, here one day and gone the next, but no one really knows when it happened, why it happened, or how it happened.
It’s been at least fifteen years since the last confirmed sighting of Garnell Moore, and we’re no closer to figuring out what has happened to him. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children doesn’t believe that he is dead, nor does the missing persons unit with the Baltimore police. The prevailing theory among optimists is that Garnell ended up with another family somehow. It could be that Belinda gave him over to another family, or that he really was left on the steps of a social services agency and someone came along and either kidnapped him or unlawfully adopted him. If this is the case, then the hope is that Garnell ended up with a nurturing family that loved him and cared for him the way he deserved all along.
But there are less optimistic theories about what happened to Garnell, and unfortunately, the less optimistic theories are probably the more likely. While it would be great if Garnell had been adopted—even if it was done unlawfully—by a wonderful family, the odds are that he wasn’t this lucky. If I had to guess, I would say that Garnell is no longer living. I don’t think that he was necessarily murdered, but I think it’s possible he may have died while in the company of Belinda Cash. I get the sense from reading about her that she may have been a bit derelict in her care for the child, so if he endured neglect or even abuse, I think it’s entirely possible this could have led to his death.
It’s obvious that Belinda Cash knows what happened to Garnell and has something to hide. Otherwise, why would she tell Trina that he was on a school trip when he had never been enrolled in school to begin with? Plus, her story change when talking to family members. I think if she really left Garnell on the doorstep of a social services agency and was willing to admit this to police, then it’s suspicious that she would tell family members a variety of different stories. The multiple stories seem a little bit like a cover-up for what really happened, perhaps an accidental death resulting from negligence.
Was Garnell murdered, given away, kidnapped, accidentally killed, or abandoned?