Hawk was found dead inside her Bywater shotgun home on Chartres Street Monday, Aug. 11, 2008. Police discovered her body while conducting a well-being check that morning. She was 32.
There have been no arrests. The District Attorney's Office has yet to file any information. DNA tests — whose results came more than six months after her murder — yielded no suspects. But now, more than two years later, with an awareness campaign and a public determined to shed light on her death, Crimestoppers is upping the reward — the stock $2,500 it offers will jump to $25,000. The reward, along with a Justice for Jessica campaign dedicated to solving her murder and promoting peace, will be announced at the dedication of a memorial garden in the Bywater at 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 9.
"It hit us that if there were to be any movement on the case, we were going to have to try and help it along," says Hawk's former fiance Lee Horvitz. "Planning, finalizing, ordering — in doing all the things with this garden, we also hope in a way is part of Justice for Jessica, that it might create some kind of spirit that is going to help solve the case."
The garden sits on the neutral ground at the neighborhood marker — behind the Bywater sign at Press Street and St. Claude Avenue, behind the railroad tracks — where raised beds with flowers and herbs form a box with a tree standing in its center. Quotes from Tennessee Williams and Hawk's mother appear on plaques in the beds, and a main marker is dedicated to Hawk.
Horvitz helped develop the garden with the Bywater Neighborhood Association and the city's Department of Parks and Parkways, which provided the space (on public property) and gave planning guidance.
"Early on, the deepest motivation for me in doing this was a voice that came to me and said, 'Jessica will not be erased,'" Horvitz says. "When I and a few others ... first had this idea, someone said to me, 'You know, it's not going to bring her back.' And I thought, 'What kind of idiot do you think I am? Of course it's not going to bring her back.' Then I realized, unconsciously, I was thinking it would bring her back. But I've learned it won't. But it does keep her here, in some way."
Horvitz says the garden is built to last at least 100 years. "It's the perfect place," he says. "Her voice must be heard on this issue for decades and decades to come."
Hawk and Horvitz moved from Ohio into a home in Uptown New Orleans in 2003. The couple evacuated the city before Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures, then returned two-and-a-half months later and found a rental in the Bywater. Hawk was hired as an entomologist on the team that opened the Audubon Insectarium in June 2008, and she also was awarded the first post-Katrina scholarship for graduate study in the biology department at the University of New Orleans.
The couple was engaged in 2006, but separated the following year. Hawk was living alone in the apartment, but the two stayed in touch and made plans to have dinner Sunday, Aug. 10. When Horvitz tried to reach Hawk that weekend, she never replied. "We believe ... she was killed either Friday night or Saturday sometime," he says. "That's how I turned out to be the one that got thinking, 'What's going on here?'"
Horvitz called police, and officers performed a wellness check Monday morning. Police discovered her body, which had multiple stab wounds. Within 15 minutes, a crime scene developed — the New Orleans Police Department, National Guard and army personnel crowded the shotgun apartment. Detectives asked Horvitz, "Did you kill her?," Horvitz remembers. "You just have to look him in the eye and respond," he says.
DNA swabs and samples were sent to Baton Rouge. Horvitz and Hawk's family waited more than six months for the results, which found only Hawk's DNA at the scene. Homicide detective Winston Harbin says there was no indication of forced entry.
"From our point of view, the forensic team didn't do a good job," says Ivonne Garzon, Hawk's friend and an activist for a DNA lab in New Orleans. "We asked about fingerprints, fingernails, (NOPD) said there was no evidence. Her apartment was small. We don't understand how someone could break in and not leave a trace."
New Orleans lost its DNA lab following the 2005 levee failures, when the facility flooded. Samples are now sent to Louisiana State Police in Baton Rouge, where they're outsourced, again, to a private company. The building that housed the New Orleans lab was demolished in 2009. (See "DNA D.O.A.," cover story, Aug. 2, 2010.)
"It took six-and-a-half months for the DNA results to come back, and for a case like this, that is beyond outrageous," Horvitz says. "I would rank that as offensive to the citizenry as the condition of [New Orleans Recreation Department], which is absolutely scandalous. Why (do) New Orleanians seem willing to accept conditions that are unacceptable in certain areas of life?"
With the launch of a Justice for Jessica campaign, Horvitz hopes to reopen the case and attract more public attention — not just for Hawk, but other victims of crime, as well as the severity of violence in New Orleans. The campaign hopes to promote the case with street-level public awareness ("Who Killed Jessica Hawk" stickers and posters), and, with the cooperation and guidance of NOPD, potentially hire a forensic pathologist and independent detective. Horvitz also helped Crimestoppers increase its reward from the standard $2,500 to $25,000, which will be announced at the Oct. 9 memorial service.
Crimestoppers executive director Darlene Cusanza says the reward is an opportunity to "generate some publicity" for the case, despite it sitting cold for more than a year.
Harbin says the reward increase is likely to generate interest. An announcement made in July to increase the reward for information on the July 2004 murder of John MacLellan in Lakeview helped Harbin find a person of interest in the case. But for now, Harbin says, detectives have nothing further to go on in Hawk's case. "It's sad to say," Harbin says. "The only thing we can do at this time is get it in the public."
The week following her death, Hawk was scheduled to begin a new job at the New Orleans Botanical Garden at City Park. She was working at Harold's Indoor-Outdoor Plants — across the street from her memorial garden. Narrating a YouTube video about the memorial garden, Horvitz says, "Her case remains unsolved. We are determined to close it."
"When you say something like that, you're aware it's just bravado, wish and hope," he says.
Horvitz says it was Harold's owner Harold Applewhite's idea to build the garden in the neutral ground, where organizers broke ground in August 2009. "The garden is a way for us to keep a little piece of Jessica in the city," Garzon says.
The dedication ceremony will include a vigil with members of the anti-violence group CeaseFire, led by organizer Charles Anderson, as well as a performance by Lisa Lynn and Leslie Martin playing music from a list of Hawk's favorite songs. Attendees are encouraged to write their names or messages to Hawk on a 9 feet by 4 feet concrete slab, which then will be protected with a sealant.
"It's a celebration, but we did not want to gloss over the fact that she was murdered," Horvitz says. A Tennessee Williams quote appears on one plaque: "After all, a high station in life is earned by the gallantry with which appalling experiences are survived with grace."
"We not only have to live on," Horvitz says, "we have to live better."
Anyone with information is asked to contact Crimestoppers at 822-1111 or toll free at (877) 903-STOP. Callers do not have to give their names or testify to receive the cash reward.