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Posted: Dec 3 2009, 05:37 PM
Member No.: 1
Joined: 2-January 09
Detroit woman seeks resting place for grandchild's ashes
Charlie LeDuff / The Detroit News
Detroit --The old woman called in need of help. Her voice was tinny and sad.
"I need a few hundred dollars," she asked meekly.
"I'm haunted by that closet," she explained. "Every time I walk by it now I get so sad. It don't seem right that Little Martha should spend a second Christmas up in there. It just don't seem right."
Little Martha is Martha Ann Barnett, the namesake and granddaughter of the old woman.
Little Martha was a 15-year-old innocent who was murdered in a drive-by shooting at Fenkell and Wyoming in January 2008. One of the men accused of participating in her killing confessed on videotape. But the man, Deandre Woolfolk, argued he was denied a lawyer by detectives before he made the confession. A judge believed him and threw out his statement. Woolfolk was set free and is back in jail, accused of beating a man to death in a Southfield nightclub.
In search of that story, I found my way, last month, to Barnett's west side door.
Her house was crumbling, the lighting opaque and yellowish. The rooms held the musty smell of fear.
Fear to open the door or the windows. Fear that someone should decide to break in and take the TV, the only thing of monetary value. Or a life, the only thing of real value.
Inside the linen closet near the bathroom, above the rolls of toilet paper and dirty laundry, Barnett keeps the cremated remains of Little Martha in a plastic bag on the top shelf, too poor to bury her.
During Little Martha's funeral last year, the parlor director stopped the music, Barnett recalled. She was pulled into the back room and asked how she was going to pay. Unable, Barnett was handed her granddaughter's remains in a metallic box in the plastic bag.
"I should've passed the hat 'round," Barnett said. "Guess I was too prideful."
And so, up Little Martha went into the closet.
Barnett pays her rent with a Social Security check and lives with her infirm daughter -- Little Martha's mother -- who shuffles in and out of the bedroom where Martha used to sleep, listening to a radio, occasionally going to the stove to light her cigarette. The first time I visited, she caught her hair on fire.
"I know my grandbaby's in a better place," Barnett said. "Absent from the body. Present with the Lord," she said quoting the New Testament.
"But still I'd like to bury my little lamb proper. Return her to the dust from which he comes. Maybe near her granddaddy. Could you help me?"
I promised I would try to make some arrangement. No child deserves to die like Little Martha did. No child deserves to drift in death. It is Christmas, after all.
"I know I ain't the only one who's known pain," Barnett said. "Lord knows I ain't the only one."
Barnett is a heavily religious woman raised in the backwoods of Washington County, Mississippi. She came to Detroit in 1977 by way of Chicago. Her son, Clarence Jr., was murdered in 1979 when he was thrown from a second-story window in the Cass Corridor. He's buried in Belleville; she knows not where.
Her husband, Clarence, died of lung cancer in 1994 and is buried at the Sacred Heart Cemetery, part of the old Polish church located in what is now a rough and tumble East Side neighborhood. The priest there lives in the rectory behind an iron door.
Unknown to Barnett until now -- another man is buried below Clarence in what is called a double plot. The grave is unacknowledged, without stone for either man.
Barnett said she paid for a stone when Clarence died but the salesman ran off with the $300. As it happened, the stone salesman cheated a lot of poor people before he died a few years ago.
"I hope he asked Jesus to forgive him," Barnett said. "I hope that for his soul that he did that."
When the situation was explained to the manager of the Sacred Heart Cemetery, he promised to provide a plot for Little Martha next to her grandfather for $450. Marshall Terry, owner of Marsh & Sassi Monument Co. on Van Dyke, will provide a simple marble headstone that will hold the names of both Clarence and Martha Anne at cost or $199.
"To tell the truth, it ain't really for Martha. She's gone on," Barnett said. "I guess I'm asking the favor for myself."