by Lane Blackmer
Just how safe is Chestnut Hill? According to a city map shown recently on the Philadelphia Inquirer’s website Philly.com, Chestnut Hill had only 10 homicides in the past 23 years. That’s just .11 percent of the city’s 9,000 homicide total over the same period.
The Local cross referenced the Inquirer’s results with its own news archives and found that, for the most part, the numbers were accurate.
While the map indicates that the Hill was the scene of seven homicides from 1988 to 2011, a search of Chestnut Hill Local archives turned up only four, with another noted only in an obituary.
Four homicides reported as news in the Local were the deaths of four members of one family in July 1990 resulting from an apparent suicide pact.
We found one discrepancy in the Inquirer’s software that seemed to list only one homicide per address. The data for Helen Bernstein, strangled at Chestnut Hill Tower in a 1995 murder is superseded by the murder of David Nurse, who was shot and killed at the Chestnut Hill Tower Apartments in 2001.
The news organization also reported only that 13-year-old Rejiva Paul died July 17, 1990, with a cause of death listed as other. The Local’s records indicate that Paul was 12 years of age and died in an apparent suicide pact that claimed an entire family, perhaps the most remarkable murder suicide in Chestnut Hill’s history.
The Local reported the story as follows:
“Dr. Anthony Paul, his wife, Dr. Malainie Paul, 48, and their two children, Madine, 7, and Rejiva, 12, were attached to separate intravenous solution bottles when discovered by the police on Tuesday, July 17, shortly after 10 a.m. at 201 W. Chestnut Hill Ave. Dr. Paul left a note specifying the family’s intentions at his office at the Fox Chase Cancer Center.”
Also the Inquirer’s data failed to account for the body of 22-year-old Simeon Henry, of Germantown, found in 1995 along with the body of 27-year-old North Philadelphian Rodney Brown in the trunk of a car in the parking lot of Chestnut Hill Village.
The most newsworthy of all the reports was the 1999 murder of Daily News Columnist Russell Byers, who lived in Chestnut Hill.
Local residents were not surprised that the area had so few of homicides compared to the rest of the city.
Dick Martin, who leads Chestnut Hill’s Town Watch, said most crimes that occur are things like car break-ins and the occasional burglary.
“For the size of our community, we have in my opinion very few crimes and certainly we normally don’t have any murders,” Martin said. “It’s petty crime. No matter where you’re at you’re going to have that possibility of crime.”
Mort Patterson, who recently moved from Chestnut Hill to Mt. Airy, said he’s not surprised that many of the area’s murders didn’t involve local victims, but rather were shootings in drug disputes.. “A lot of murders are criminal on criminal,” he said. “There seems to be fewer criminal feuds [in Chestnut Hill].”
Patterson said he was involved in the murder trial of Alexander Porter, a West Philadelphia teen who was shot to death near Navajo Street and Cresheim Valley Drive with his hands bound behind his back.
“I heard the shot and testified in trial,” Patterson said. “But I think they were just driving through and it’s a good place to dump a body.”
For other residents, the low crime rate compared with other parts of the city was a reason why some of them moved here.
Cheryl and Jim Dexter moved to Chestnut Hill from New Jersey to enjoy more of a city life. They picked the area partially due to its reputation for being safe.
“I see a policeman that walks around,” said Cheryl. “I’d have no problem walking down Germantown Ave. at 11 o’clock by myself.”
Cheryl said she attributes the neighborhood’s general feeling of safety to it being more of a community within a city.
“I find that people are really friendly here,” she said.
Denise Fitzpatrick, who doesn’t life in Chestnut Hill but frequents the neighborhood, said she’s not surprised about the low murder rate.
“There was a murder in front of Wawa a few years back,” she said. “But other than that, it’s petty crime and things like car break-ins.”
Fitzpatrick also said the business district and lower population density – which, according to the 2010 census, is just under 10,000 – contribute to a safer environment.
“I think good, quality restaurants make the neighborhood safer with some foot traffic,” she said.
Dave Friday, owner of Hipster Home, said he also thinks the strong business district is a contributing factor to low homicide rates.
“It’s a good retail district,” he said. “As far as safety, it’s populated with a lot of retail shoppers and there’s not much night life.”
He added: “the more business, the more foot traffic and the less violent crime you have.”
But some residents say they aren’t so much focused on the homicide rate as much as the crime rate.
“This is a very affluent neighborhood,” Patterson said. “But the crime rate here is still surprising.”
In reviewing the Local’s weekly crime reports, a few burglaries and car break-ins occur weekly.
Adrian and Mary Stanley, who have an infant child, are still concerned because they think a low murder rate has little to do with other crimes that happen in the neighborhood.
“There needs to be more police with all the robberies,” Mary said. “We’ve seen more police walking around since the post office was robbed.”
The Stanleys said they feel safe in the neighborhood, but there’s always a chance something could happen.
“I don’t think it’s just isolated,” Adrian said. “There’s nothing stopping people from coming here.”