10-year-old homicide case haunts victims’ kin

March 31, 2019

When the call came reporting a shooting in an alley off Creighton Avenue, Angie Johnson had been working in the Allen County 911 call center just a few months.

She didn’t take the call about 12:05 a.m. on March 25, 2009, but the information that popped up on the computer screen told her everything she had to know. 

“I just knew,” Johnson, 43, recalled. “In my heart, I just knew.”

Her brother, Adam Tadeo, 25, had been shot in the head, a wound that would end his life two hours later at a hospital. He’d been driving his girlfriend’s green Chevrolet Impala and had his name tattooed on his arms from his elbow to his wrist, she said. Tadeo Boy was tattooed on his neck.

The violence that night claimed another life, that of Deanthony Lewis, 20, originally from South Bend. 

Ten years after the double homicide, two of 22 in 2009, the case is active, according to Michael Joyner, public information officer for the Fort Wayne Police Department. Police have a person of interest, but no arrests have been made.

“Though detectives investigating this homicide have a person of interest, one must have probable cause to satisfy the rules of law to effect an arrest and have it hold up in court. So at this time we continue to gather enough evidence to be able to have an arrest warrant issued,” Joyner said in an email.  

Late-morning television coverage the day of the homicides showed the Impala at the scene, confirming to Johnson, her brother Andy Tadeo, now 38, and her mother, Denise Zuber Tadeo, what they’d feared.

“They showed the car and that’s when I lost it,” Denise said. “I kept calling the police station, the hospital, the detectives. I even called the coroner (asking) is that my son?, (saying) ‘here’s all the tattoos.’ Their response was ‘We can’t tell you anything, ma’am, We can’t tell you anything.’”

Police eventually knocked on Denise’s door that afternoon.  

Knew but had to hold it in

Just after the shooting, Johnson told her supervisor the victim was her brother. After the supervisor spoke to the officer and detective at the scene, she told Johnson, “you can go home if you need to.”

Rules prevented Johnson from reaching out to her mother, Denise, her brother Andy, or even her husband, to tell them what she knew.

“I had to hold that in the whole entire night,” Johnson recalled about her shift that ended at 7 a.m. “I was praying and crying. To be honest, when it happened, I was hoping that he was the one witnesses saw running, not that I wanted him to take anyone’s life.” 

Another clue her brother had been shot was that he stopped answering his cellphone, which she called from dispatch. Denise also called him numerous times and her name would have come up as “Mama,” she said, but he was sent to the hospital as Bernard Doe, a similar designation to John Doe.

“We could have been at the hospital with him,” said Denise, who works in patient assistance at a health and dental clinic.

Lewis died at the scene after he was shot in the back of his head, a shot that tore off the left side of his face, Denise said. Adam was shot in the right temple during an argument with his killer, who had boxed in the Impala Adam was driving.

Deputy Coroner Chris Meihls said the coroner’s office does not release autopsy information until the case is being adjudicated because it is considered evidence. However, he said mothers learn where their children were wounded or shot when they view the body.  

Police found Tadeo in the Impala, said Denise, who believes her son was killed by a childhood friend. That so-called friend “was the last one who blew up his phone,” she said, but thinks another man killed Lewis.

Denise has heard various stories about what may have prompted the slayings, including that her son may have been with individuals who stole thousands of dollars from drug dealers, who then wanted him dead.

Denise acknowledges her son’s criminal past. According to court records, Tadeo was arrested in September 2006 for cocaine possession, took a plea agreement that November and was sentenced the next month to four years in prison with two years suspended and two years’ probation. He was granted a jail credit of 88 days.  

After 2006, Tadeo was incarcerated twice in state prisons for probation violation and cocaine possession, serving at least 19 months, Denise said.

Like many other mothers whose sons were killed, she is a constant sleuth. “There were a bunch of shady characters that were involved in all of this. He (Adam) didn’t know them personally,” she said. “They were (the killer’s) friends and were supposed to be in a gang.” 

Work sporadic at time of death 

At the time of his death, Adam Tadeo was working for a company that contracted with BF Goodrich. He met Lewis on the job. Lewis had been working there for five months. 

Adam Tadeo started working at 15, a maintenance job at a nursing home, Denise said. 

“Adam was a hard worker. He was in the middle of getting his GED. His teacher came to the funeral and said he was the best, well-behaved kid she had. That’s what they said at Blue Jacket, too,” Denise said.

Blue Jacket is a local nonprofit organization that prepares ex-inmates and others who are disadvantaged with job training.

Work was sporadic at the tire plant. It was 2009 and the economy was in the midst of the Great Recession, Denise said.

“I drove him all the time to Woodburn (to the factory) and we’d just sit there and wait to see if they needed him,” she said. “Half the time they just drew straws and he was always the one who got the short straw and so he had to leave.” 

The lure of drugs was “fast money,” Denise said.

At 62, Denise said she wants “some kind of resolution” before she passes away. She thinks the Fort Wayne Police Department needs more homicide detectives.

The homicide division has six detectives, said Sgt. Jim Seay, in FWPD’s community relations division. In a December interview with The Journal Gazette, Deputy Chief Garry Hamilton said six to seven homicide detectives was adequate. 

Eleven of the 2009 homicides in Fort Wayne have been solved, according to statistics supplied by Sgt. Timothy Hughes of the homicide division.

The other 11 are considered “open.”

In a 10-year span through 2018, there have been 338 homicides in Fort Wayne. Half : 51 percent : are solved. The remaining 166 homicides are “open,” Hughes said.

“Open” does not mean unsolved. “Many of these are solved, but not prosecuted for a variety of reasons,” Hughes wrote in an email.

If the shooting deaths of Tadeo and Lewis were gang-related, they would be among the most difficult homicides to solve, according to a 2008 report, updated in 2013, from the Cleveland State University Sociology and Criminology Department. 

“Situations involving gangs ... may pose difficulties in terms of securing witnesses who are willing to identify the perpetrator,” the report said. “Under such circumstances, it may only be when the witnesses (gang members) are in need of a deal with police or prosecutors because they have become ‘jammed up’ themselves that they become willing to cooperate, leaving the case uncleared for a time.”

Co-author Wendy C. Regoeczi, the department chair and director of the university’s Criminology Research Center, said more current research “does continue to show that gang-, drug-, and felony-related homicides pose obstacles to solving the crimes.”

Sgt. Gary Hensler of the FWPD’s Gang and Violent Crimes Unit agrees.

“Gang crimes, in general, and gang shootings, in particular, can be particularly difficult to solve,” Hensler said. “If the victims are targeted from opposing gangs, these victims and witnesses already have a dislike for police, as their ongoing criminal behavior makes them targets of police action. If the victims are not a part of an opposing gang faction, they are often unwilling to cooperate with investigators due to a fear of gang retaliation. This environment of fear and intimidation makes gang crime investigations problematic to solve.”

Support group helps mother

Denise has found solace in the local activist group known as JAVA : Justice, Accountability, Victim Advocacy : and serves on the leadership team. The group is dedicated to reaching out to families who have lost children to homicide.

“I felt like I was the only one in the world before who lost a child. I didn’t know where to go, what to do. If it wasn’t for my two older kids and my son-in-law, I couldn’t have done it. Her children and spouses took over funeral details for Adam. “I just sat there shaking,” Denise recalled.

Johnson says she wants justice for her brother but has a family to raise. Ten years is a long time to wait, and law enforcement tells her that they don’t have enough evidence to charge anyone.

“His (the killer’s) day is coming whether from the justice system or the streets. It’s whatever it is,” Johnson said.