Who killed Winnie Harris? Friends, family, police want to know

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It’s been more than three months since beloved West Philadelphia community activist Winnie Harris was shot to death, and police have no leads yet on who did it or why.  So her friends and family are taking matters into their own hands.

Saundra Fulwood, a close friend, grabbed 20 fliers Tuesday morning showing the  faces of two men wanted by police for questioning, and posted them on phone booths and utility boxes.

“Find Winnie’s killers, find who did this to her,” Fulwood said as she posted the black-and-white fliers outside 40th Street Station on the Market-Frankford Line. Solving her friend’s murder has become an obsession, Fulwood said.  “This is what I need. I need to know who did this.”

Harris, 65, the acting executive director and longtime volunteer coordinator at UC Green, a West Philadelphia-based group that plants and tends trees, was found shot to death Feb. 3 in her Powelton home, where she lived alone, on the 300 block of North Holly Street.

Police are seeking two men who were captured on surveillance video walking in an alleyway near Harris’ home overnight before her body was found.  Although the video has been circulating since March, there have been no leads, police said.

Fulwood, now a retired Philadelphia police officer, met Harris in the late 1990s. At that time, Fulwood lived on the 4900 block of Osage Avenue, wanted to have trees planted and was told she needed “to speak to a person named Winnie Harris,” she recalled. Out of that grew a deep friendship.

She and another friend of Harris,’ Mark Wagenveld, a former Inquirer editor and a volunteer with UC Green, pressed police to develop a flier with the images of the two men.

Wagenveld helped create the “Justice for Winnie” flier, adding a photo and a little description of the victim.

He has also spearheaded an effort to mail another version of the flier — one that includes a barcode that people can scan with their smartphones to see the police video. That flier will soon land in 7,500 mailboxes in the 19104 zip code, which covers University City, Powelton, Mantua and part of West Philadelphia.

“We hope people will recognize at least one of these men,” Wagenveld said.

Last week, the police flier was published in the University City Review, a free community weekly with a 15,000 circulation — it’s distributed to 9,500 homes in University City and West Philly, and another 5,500 copies are placed in newspaper boxes and supermarket drop boxes.

Claudia Christian, associate publisher of the Review, knew Harris through their jobs and from seeing her in the neighborhood. “She was just so involved,” said Christian. “Here is someone who really was doing good for the community and was a mentor to so many people.”

Fulwood, on an almost daily basis, has been driving around and looking for “hard surfaces.” She has gone into City Avenue restaurants — TGI Fridays, Chili’s, QDOBA — and posted the fliers on the back of men’s and women’s bathroom doors. 

“I have to put them where they’re going to make the most impact,” she said.

She distributed the fliers to Harris’ friends and family. Just go into a business and leave two or three, she told them.

Harris’ daughter, Neche, has also been printing fliers and handing them to people to distribute or place in barbershops.

“My mom didn’t just die,” she said. “She was taken from all of us.”

In addition to her work at UC Green, Winnie Harris created the Holly Street Neighbors Community Garden on her own block in 2005.

“She would push a shopping cart up and down the streets of Philly to see what discarded refuse she could repurpose for the garden,” Neche Harris said. “My mom always did what needed to be done.”

Neche was at a sign shop Tuesday turning the flier into a vinyl banner. She plans to hang it on the 41st Street side of the garden.

“If you know anything, tell us,” she urged. “Do what needs to be done.”

In the video, one man is seen with a gun. He has been described as black, with a muscular build, bushy hair and a receding hairline. The other man is described as black, with possible facial hair on his chin.

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Tipsters can call the police department’s homicide unit, 215-686-3334. There is a $20,000 reward for tips leading to an arrest and conviction.

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