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IM CRIME FILES: Deadly Decisions
Three men committed one of Hamilton County’s most savage murders—all for lack of rent money.
Editor’s Note: The following originally appeared in the April 1995 issue and is included among IM‘s Best-Ever Crime Stories. In August 1995, Ajabu, Adams, and Walls were convicted of murder. All three received life sentences and are currently incarcerated in Indiana prisons. IM ran a profile of Ajabu’s father, Mmoja Ajabu, in December 2008.
On a July evening in 1993, Kofi Modibo Ajabu was driving down a residential road when a dog darted in front of his ’86 Renault. Ajabu stomped on the brake, but the front bumper smacked the mongrel, sending the dog sailing through the air. Rather than drive on, Ajabu jumped out of the car and rushed to the stricken pooch, which lay on its side, whimpering. Sitting on the shoulder of the road, the young man spoke soothingly to the dog and stroked its head until, a few moments later, it breathed its last. Then he placed the body in the backseat of his car and drove through the neighborhood, knocking on doors until he found the animal’s owners and explained what happened.
That’s the side of Ajabu his friends and family like to describe when they recall the 22-year-old son of Black Panther Militia leader Mmoja Ajabu. But there was another Kofi Modibo Ajabu, too: the one who apparently played sidekick to a man who slit three young people’s throats.
Too impressionable at best, cold-blooded at worst, Ajabu now sits in a stark prison cell, awaiting a June murder trial that could cost him not only his liberty, but his life. Along with James Walls, 21, and Raymond Adams, 27, Ajabu stands accused of the so-called Carmel murders—the triple slaying in the affluent Thistlewood subdivision (north of Carmel) on March 16, 1994.
The brutal murders of 17-year-old Nick Allemenos, his 13year-old sister, Lisa, and 23-year-old family friend Chris James sent a chill through the Carmel community, apparent evidence that random crime could strike anywhere, any time. But the crime wasn’t random, authorities say: In an ultimate case of bad judgment, Nick had invited Adams into his home to buy marijuana from him, then opened his door to him the next night because Adams supposedly knew someone who wanted to buy Nick’s bike.
Then again, there was plenty of bad judgment to go around. Until that March evening, Ajabu and Walls had no record of violent crime—or much of any crime, for that matter. Walls’s arrest record was blank, while Ajabu’s only prior brush with the law involved an arrest for allegedly stealing a gun at a gun show in 1993. Even that incident might have been a misunderstanding: Both Ajabu and a witness maintained that he simply picked up the firearm and immediately put it down.
Moreover, the two became acquainted not through some dishonest activity, but through their work. In September 1993, Ajabu took a job at a Noble Roman’s restaurant, where he befriended Walls, a co-worker. Soon Ajabu was attending the boisterous late-night parties that Walls hosted in his far-northside apartment. Their penchant for partying, however, would bring more problems than an occasional hangover. Walls, who had moved from Coral Gables, Florida, only months before the murders, met Adams at a party shortly after his arrival and struck up a friendship. When Adams asked to move in with Walls at Tudor Lake Apartments, Walls agreed. Later, during a party at the apartments, Ajabu met Adams.
In retrospect, the triumvirate appeared ill-fated from the start. Adams—5-foot-10, 270 pounds and the oldest of the trio—bore a rap sheet as long as a scroll, his first arrest occurring at the tender age of 11. Even more significant, he gravitated toward younger people whom he could dominate, police say. “When Adams committed burglaries in his late teens, he ran with 12- and 13-year-olds,” says a sergeant with the Marion County Sheriff’s Department. “He struck me as a person who desperately wanted to be a leader, but could only function that way with people six or seven years younger than he was.”
As a student at Broad Ripple and North Central high schools he showed a flair for art, but little else. An indifferent student and social misfit who failed to graduate from either school because of chronic truancy, he later earned a GED at North Central and in ’92 attended summer and fall sessions at IUPUI. Adams’s adolescent years were rife with misdeeds and conflicts at home, where his mother and stepfather grew weary of his trouble-making ways. If he wasn’t wrapping his stepfather’s Camaro around a tree, he was getting arrested on charges of burglary, check forgery, or credit card fraud. Once, while working as a pizza delivery driver, two friends “held up” Adams, then divided the spoils with him. At age 19 he left home for good—living with friends and doing odd jobs (mainly in restaurants as a busboy) and building up his juvenile arrest record. “He left of his own free will; we didn’t kick him out,” says his stepfather, Jim Bushrod.
But that’s exactly what he told a family that took him under its wing: that his parents had forced him to move. Adams rewarded the family’s compassion by taking their credit cards and making lavish purchases. Adams’s champagne tastes, coupled with his beer budget, made credit card fraud one of his favorite crimes. He once used a stolen card to buy an $800 bicycle and fancy bicycle shoes.
“Raymond struck me as the type of person who wanted to have things. But he didn’t want to work for them,” says the sergeant. “When he was at North Central, which draws a mix of students from affluent and poor neighborhoods, he saw what some of the wealthy students had, and he wanted those things, too.”
A former classmate recalls Adams as a charismatic type. “In high school, he was the class clown, always cutting up at school and partying on the weekends. He’d come walking down the hallway with a big smile on his face, and everyone would say, ‘Hey, Raymond, what’s going on?’ But if he had the opportunity he would steal from his own friends. He was a conman, even in high school.”
The classmate found out the hard way after giving Adams a ride to the hotel where he was staying. (Adams claimed he’d been kicked out by his parents). “As soon as we pulled up to the hotel, police surrounded the car and arrested both of us,” the classmate recalls. “It seems Adams had been robbing the hotel rooms while he was living there.”
Throughout his teens and early 20s, Adams racked up more and more arrests, mostly for comparatively minor crimes such as burglaries and bungled scams. He briefly landed in the Marion County Jail and the Indiana Youth Center, but was still beating the system at the time of his most recent arrest: Charged with writing a bad check at a grocery, he was released on $1,000 bond and shunted into a diversion program. Though people with long rap sheets normally don’t qualify, Adams was allowed in because the amount of money was small and the store simply wanted to recover it. By successfully completing the program and two years’ probation, Adams could have nixed any record of the forgery arrest. But instead of erasing his past, he left an indelible mark on his future.
His alleged accomplices once seemed like good candidates for a walk down life’s straight-and-narrow path. Ajabu’s mother recalls that at age 9, her son was sitting in a pew at the Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church, when the preacher’s message seemed to move him. To her surprise, at the altar call he walked to the front of the church and told the preacher he wanted to accept Jesus as his savior and be baptized.
At Westlane Middle School, Ajabu was pleasant and well-behaved, but his academic indifference frustrated his teachers. “He was a bright child who had a lot of capabilities he didn’t use,” recalls Ron Davie, the school’s assistant principal the time. “I don’t think school work was his No. 1 priority.” Ajabu seemed more interested in tae kwon do, weightlifting, sketching charcoal pictures of super heroes, and taking care of his pets: hamsters, frogs, spiders, lizards, even a baby boa.
His cavalier attitude in the classroom concerned Ajabu’s parents, who expected him to go to college. “He’d say, ‘But Dad, I already know that stuff,’’’ Mmoja recalls. “I’d say, ‘Son, people don’t give you credit for what you know. Only for what you show them you know.’”
But at North Central, his motivation level rose and fell like the tide. If he liked the instructor or found the subject intriguing, he generally earned an A or B. If not, he wound up with a C, D, or F.
Because he was articulate and loved to write, he excelled in English and language classes. Science and math were his bane. Throughout high school he maintained a C average—a source of unending frustration for his parents, especially when he consistently scored in the top 10 percent on standardized achievement tests. But whenever they urged him to knuckle down, he would say, “Just leave me alone. I can do it if you’ll just leave me alone.”
Instead of studying, however, Ajabu preferred to bury his head in a J.R.R. Tolkien or Stephen King novel, or leaf through some of the 100-plus comic books he kept in a large trunk. He also loved Disney, Ninja Turtles, and Chuck Norris videos, plus his all-time favorite—ironically, The Nightmare Before Christmas.
For him, high school was merely something to be endured. Things were anything but dull at home. Ajabu’s parents often disagreed on how he should be raised. Jane desperately wanted him to remain in the Baptist church, while Mmoja rejected Christianity and became a Muslim in 1975. Modibo (as his family calls him) hung onto his Christian faith for years, but converted to Islam as a high school senior. Jane and Mmoja separated several times, most recently in the summer of ’93, and Jane says they probably will divorce.
Some observers have speculated that his father’s Black Panther rhetoric tainted Modibo’s attitude toward the murder victims: three young white residents of an upper-class neighborhood. On a personal level, however, Modibo had little contact with the Panthers, his mother says. Though he attended some meetings and marches, it was mostly to please his father, she says.
Before he met Adams, she says, her son had always made quality friends. But not this time, Jane admits. “Somehow he was charmed by this man, “ she says.
Mmoja had met Walls and Adams on several occasions and didn’t care for them. Mmoja became so uneasy that in the fall of ’93, he picked up his son at Jane’s house and brought him to his own home to live. “I needed access to his head,” he says. “I didn’t have a good feeling about those two. I said, ‘Son, you’re flirting’ with a hurtin’.” The younger Ajabu still lived with his father at the time of his arrest.
Walls, whose background is harder to trace, began working at Little Caesars and Noble Roman’s after coming to Indianapolis. Signs of Adams’s influence may have surfaced even before the murders: In January 1994, Walls told police he was robbed while trying to make a cash deposit for his employer. The story mirrored one of Adams’s favorite cons, in which an employee with access to company money claims to have been held up, then divides it with the “robbers.”
Despite his two jobs, Walls still failed to pay his rent, falling so far behind that in early ’94 he received an eviction notice. Walls was upset, but not as much as Adams, who—despite having no business living there in the first place—called the landlord to give him an earful.
Then, Walls said, Adams began looking for a way to raise enough money for a house, and on March 15, he found it. That evening a mutual friend introduced Adams to Nick Allemenos at the latter’s home. During his 30-minute visit, in which he sold Nick marijuana, Adams learned that Nick’ s father, George, was golfing in the Caribbean—leaving Nick home with his sister, Lisa, and friend Chris James, who also lived there.
The next evening Adams wanted to return, claiming a friend wanted to look at the bike Nick wanted to sell. Nick agreed, but worried that Adams was dangerous after seeing him flash a 10-inch knife and call it his “right-hand man,” says Nick’ s girlfriend, Karen Kennelly. James even packed a.32-caliber revolver before Adams came over on March 16.
But he never got to use it. Adams, Walls, and Ajabu arrived just before midnight and went straight to work. By their own admission, Walls and Ajabu bound and gagged Nick with duct tape while Adams did the same to James and Lisa. Then, Walls and Ajabu both say, Adams slashed all three victims’ throats with a black-handled knife.
What turned a simple robbery into a triple homicide remains an open question. If Adams indeed killed all three victims, why would the small-potatoes con man engage in such senseless savagery? The clue may lie in Adams’s criminal history, which authorities feel contained warning signs of uncontrolled rage. During many robberies, he not only grabbed the cash but left behind a disturbing calling card: smashed cash registers, computer equipment, and TV monitors. Perhaps the fury he directed toward inanimate objects suddenly found a new target: three nice-looking, popular, well-to-do young people who seemed to have everything he didn’t.
Both Walls and Ajabu swear they had no idea Adams would kill the victims. Walls says he knew only that Adams planned to rob the home and rough up Chris James if necessary. James was assistant manager at George Allemenos’s hardware store, and Adams presumed he knew the store’s safe combination and alarm code, said Walls. Ajabu claims he thought the three of them were going to a party.
Yet, according to testimony, neither he nor Walls behaved like horrified spectators. Walls—hardly a waif at nearly 6 feet tall, 230 pounds—said that when he saw Adams thrust his knee into James’s back, cradle the young man’s chin, and pull backward in an attempt to break his victim’s back, he simply left the room so he wouldn’t have to watch. And later, when he saw James bleeding to death on the floor, he apparently did nothing to help.
Both Walls and Ajabu admit they carried electronic equipment and other belongings from the home and loaded it into Walls’s Honda, George Allemenos’s ’92 BMW, and Nick’s ’90 Audi—at the same time Adams was inside the house, cutting the victims’ throats. Later, Walls said, he thought he heard Ajabu making fun of the noises one victim made as he choked on his own blood.
Whatever his intentions, Ajabu missed several opportunities to distance himself from the murders, and perhaps even prevent them. At one point, Walls said, Adams disarmed James, tossed the revolver to Ajabu, and told him to hold it—yet Ajabu did not confront Adams.
Even if Walls and Ajabu felt intimidated by Adams, neither can claim they had no opportunity to escape his influence. The trio left the Allemenos residence in separate cars, depositing Walls’s Honda at his apartment complex, abandoning the Audi in Marion County, and taking the BMW to Chicago, where they pawned some of the stolen property. Then they caught a bus back to Indianapolis and returned to the same apartment that Walls was supposed to have moved from.
Hours later, Kennelly, concerned that Nick hadn’t picked her up for school, found the bodies. Running from the house, she fell to her knees and screamed, “Nick’s dead. they’re all dead. “
About 26 hours after the killings, at 4 a.m. on March 18, police arrived at the apartment, arrested the three men, and took them to the Hamilton County Jail in Noblesville. Hours later Mmoja was in bed watching the morning news on TV. “Oh, my God!” he screamed at the top of his lungs, as his son’s face splashed across the screen. Mmoja phoned Jane at school, who felt her heart lurch when she heard the news. That afternoon she found herself in Hamilton County Superior Court No. 2, watching in a daze as police officers led her handcuffed son into the room. “I’ve never fainted in my life, but when my eyes met his, I felt my knees buckle,” she says. “He just looked straight at me and said, ‘I didn’t do it, Mom.” Ironically, when Jane went home that night, she found a letter from Jackson State University. It stated that her son had been accepted for the fall semester.
During his first few weeks behind bars, Ajabu still didn’t seem to grasp the gravity of the situation, repeatedly asking his parents, “I didn’t hurt anybody; why am I here?” Undoubtedly he has since learned the cold truth about Indiana law, which—in terms of punishment—makes no distinction between an actual murderer and his accomplices. All can be held equally culpable; therefore all three defendants could be executed.
Friends and family cling, perhaps naively, to the “good kid, bad influence” theory. Mmoja has told his son that he “screwed up,” but feels God will give him a second chance. “That’s what I’m praying for,” says Mmoja, “A second chance.”
Jane says she has bought her son a gift for every holiday he’s been in prison and placed it in an old black trunk trimmed in gold. “When he finally comes home, we’ll open it up,” she says. “Then we’ll have all our holidays at once. “ Mashariki Jywanza, who has known young Ajabu since he was an infant, says, “Modibo is a very decent kid, but unfortunately, he hooked up with the wrong type of individual.”
But whether Ajabu merely hooked up with the wrong type of individual or was himself the wrong type of individual may never be known entirely. Could the same young man who showed compassion for a dying dog have found amusement in the last gasps of a dying human being?
As for Adams, not long ago a teenage girl whom he had never met arrived at the Hamilton County Jail to give him a present. Smiling warmly, she extended her right hand and gave him a Bible. “Thanks,” Adams said, taking the book.
Perhaps within its pages he will find forgiveness for the crime he’s accused of committing. But for him and his co-defendants, finding forgiveness in a court of law may be considerably more difficult.
Memorial: A year after their murder, memories of the three victims burn brightly.
More than a year later, loved ones still have trouble accepting the loss of Lisa and Nick Allemenos and Chris James. But those who remember them talk not about how they died, but how they lived.
No one speaks of Lisa without mentioning her smile. “She lit up the room,” says Bill Baker, her Carmel Junior High science teacher.
An honor student, she participated in Girl Scouts, track, cross-country, and a non-denominational Christian youth group. Three years before her death, she began taking violin lessons and developed an immediate love affair with the instrument.
Lisa would practice a half hour every day after school, despite a joint problem that caused her fingers to swell and throb with pain. “While I was taking roll call, she would rub ice packs on her hands,” recalls Baker. “But she never complained about it.” The pain paid off, however: A month before she died, Lisa won first place for a violin solo at a regional contest. Nick, 17, an A student who planned to major in pre-med at Hanover College, served on Carmel High School’s student council, acted in two school plays, and did his own radio show on Carmel’s 24hour FM station.
An intense individual, he could be opinionated, says teacher Mark Shoup, who still remembers the day Nick walked into his office after reading a book that Shoup had recommended. “He threw the book at me and said, ‘Mr. Shoup, this is trash!’” the teacher says. But Shoup more than redeemed himself when he placed a copy of Gary Paulsen’s Eastern Sun, Winter Moon into Nick’s hands. Enraptured by Paulsen’s prose, Nick devoured more than a dozen of the author’s books.
When Paulsen came to Indianapolis to speak last spring, just a month after the murders, he was told about Nick’s admiration for his writing. Paulsen was so touched that he announced he would dedicate his new book, Father Water, Mother Woods, to Nick’s memory.
More than anything, Chris James, 24, enjoyed the fishing trips in Canada that he took each summer with his father and a group of mutual friends. But a cloud hung over the 1989 outing because three of the elder members of their contingent had passed away during the previous year. So James and a friend climbed into a canoe, paddled to a large rock in the center of the lake, and attached a small brass plaque bearing praise for the three men.
Last summer, his fishing group made its annual pilgrimage to Canada. But before the first hook hit the water, a couple of the men paddled out to the large rock in the middle of the lake. This time, in honor of Chris, they added a second plaque directly below the first. “Sometimes we cry because we miss him,” its inscription says, “but we will always smile because we knew him.”
This article appeared in the April 1995 issue.