Special Reports

Streets claim life of one who sought refuge

The stabbing death Wednesday night of Joanne Samuel tore apart the daily fabric of life at the Boston Police Department’s Area B station on Dudley Street.

It also snatched from the world a young woman who -- for part of her time anyway -- was a survivor of the mean streets in one of the city’s poorest



Samuel, a 35-year-old mother of four, was set upon around 9 p.m. by three men in the parking lot of the Burger King at Washington Street and Columbia Road. She was stabbed repeatedly in the chest and the back. She died less than three hours later at Boston City Hospital of two stab wounds to the heart.

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Police say they do not know why she was killed.

The Burger King parking lot where the stabbing took place is in one of the city’s most violent neighborhoods. Street gangs and drugs are a constant threat, residents say.

But Burger King manager Wesley Johnson said the killing was the first on the lot since the fast-food restaurant opened in 1986.

“This used to be a tough place,” he said, “but after we moved in and got security guards and monitored the place the gangs stopped coming here.”


A security guard was on duty, standing inside the restaurant’s enclosed entryway, when Samuel was killed outside. The guard apparently did not hear or see the stabbing because he was giving someone directions, according to Janice Carter, a night manager on duty when the stabbing occurred. By the time the guard learned of, and responded to, the stabbing, the assailants had fled the scene, she said.

Before Samuel’s violent death, she could be found nearly every day sitting in the Area B station lobby, quietly watching the world go by, bidding hello to officers as they came and went on their duties.

“She used to wear a baseball hat,” Sgt. Marie Donahue recalled.

It seemed clear that she was not a street person, Donahue said. She always appeared clean and neatly dressed. Her family had given employees behind the desk a phone number to call if she needed help.

“Most of the people here know her . . . if not everybody.” But, the sergeant added, “I don’t think anybody knew her name.”


For at least a year, Joanne Samuel was one of a small number of people who regularly use the station house as a refuge.

“People will come in and sit. Maybe they’re lonely?” said the sergeant. ‘‘Maybe they feel safe here. It’s a secure atmosphere. They don’t sleep here. It’s just during the day.”

But Joanne Samuel was more than simply a person who hung around the station house.

Most of the officers who saw her every day would be surprised to learn that she once worked as an accountant.

A Meridian, Miss., native who moved to Roxbury at the age of 7, Samuel had been an “A” student at Girls High School, said her mother, Leola McGowan.

She had gone to college on a scholarship and obtained a degree in accounting, said McGowan.

She was a success until the late 1970s when she had a nervous breakdown, according to her mother. It shattered her life for a time, said Leola McGowan, a food supervisor and cook at a Watertown nursing home.

“Sometimes she’d just sleep all the time,” said McGowan. “Sometimes she’d just go into her own self. She’s never hurt anybody.”

There were times that Samuel would break down and have to be rushed to a hospital. She was placed on medication, but she wouldn’t always take it, her mother said.

At the time of her death she was on disability income. Her mother, who lives in a government-subsidized apartment on Blue Hill Avenue in Grove Hall, was taking care of Samuel’s children, who range in age from 4 to 15.

But Samuel, who lived by herself in a room off Talbot Avenue, came by to see her children every day. She had spoken in recent days of getting an apartment and beginning to care for her children again.

“She hadn’t had a breakdown in quite a while,” said her mother.

McGowan said she did not know where Samuel’s husband -- the father of the children -- could be found.

She said her daughter’s cruel killing made her feel “very hurt” and ‘‘very mad.”

“They have to do something and do something quick,” she said. Criminals ‘‘take someone’s life and then they put them in jail for a few minutes . . . for a little while.

“They should put them in the electric chair.”