Jerell Willis
July 1, 1989 - January 1994
Find A Grave Memorial
America has had the remains of children show up and no one knew who they were or where they came from. Some of those children are lucky enough to have been a constant feature in the news, over the years. Media attention would surround them and pressure would be on for the identity of the child to be discovered. One child would not be so lucky.

On May 27, 1994, the decomposed, skeletal remains of a child were found in a duffel bag in an abandoned lot in Old City, Pennsylvania. The body of this child had been wrapped in a bed sheet and a towel and placed in the bag under the Ben Franklin Bridge. An autopsy revealed that the child had been beaten to death listing blunt force trauma to the head and torso as the cause of death. A lack of media attention, even in the area where the child was found, would cause this case to be almost totally unknown, even by those who lived in Philadelphia.  

For many years the body of this child lay in the morgue, unclaimed and unknown. In February of 2001, a very generous woman, who lived in North Philadelphia, arranged for this little Angel to have a funeral. The unknown child would finally be laid to rest. 

The remains had been cremated and were set to sit in a box in the basement of the morgue. Where they would sit, unclaimed among many others.

Mary had spent seven long years trying to get the morgue to allow release of the body of this child so he could have a proper burial. Mary wanted to be sure that this child was loved in death, since he obviously had not been in life.

"This little fella has no name. At least his little body 
should be at peace, at rest"
Mary Peck

Over the years Mary had tried and failed many times to get the ashes of this child buried. Many other people had called once or twice to asked, none of them called back after being told it wasn't possible. Mary was the exception to that. She couldn't understand how anyone could discard a child that way, as though they were trash:

"Nobody deserved that. A little child really didn't deserve that" 

When she was finally given permission to bury the child, Mary sat down with Sister Cecile Reiley and began the planning of the service:

"We're all so into ourselves and our own little world these days," Sister Cecile said. "I know Mary was giving this little boy love for all these years is just amazing" 
Sister Cecile Reiley

"You were ordained to do this. You were chosen" 
Sister Cecile Reiley to Mary Peck

The remains of the child, which had been cremated, were buried in Juniata Park on Ash Wednesday. The head- stead read "God bless this grave of this unknown boy".

Monica Yant Kinney, an Inquirer Columnist, drove Mary to the morgue where the staff was in awe over her determination to make sure that this child was buried properly and that the world would know that at least someone cared about him, if not his parents. Some would come to call Mary Peck the REAL mother of this child.

Other people who didn't know the child also donated to provide him with what he needed. A spot for his burial was donated by the Archdiocese in the New Cathedral Cemetery, a bagpiper played the music and a woman donated a box which she had decorated with lace and a cross to put the child's ashes in. Reverend John McNamee had chosen a name for the boy, Tarsicius, the patron saint of alter boys. This name was chosen since Tarsicius had also been beaten to death. Mary did not want praise for what she had done:

"If I didn't do it, somebody else would - wouldn't they"

Mary was happy to see that another stranger had donated a grave marker for the child. Mary had battled Cancer not to long before the child had been buried and the Cancer was back. Mary would lose her battle with Cancer and in April of 2003, she died.

When Monica stopped by to visit the grave of this unknown child, she found that someone else was there as well. The man who owned Travis Memorial, Jim Travis was there. As she brushed snow off of the grave marker she was thinking that Mary would have loved to see the REAL name of the child, on the marker. Jim was thinking along the same line:

"I'll replace the marker when we learn the boy's name. Whatever it takes, I'll do it"

Mary Peck was buried with a simple graveside service. Mary had wanted it that way, no fuss at all and nothing fancy:

"That's what she wanted. How do you not honor the person you love"
Harry Peck  - Mary's son

In Northwood Cemetery, in lot #74, Mary rests in peace next to her husband, Harry who is a Navy Veteran and passed away in 1984. On the gravestone, Harry's name is alone, due to her wishes, Mary's name is not listed on the stone.

Frank Bender had sculpted an image of what the boy might look like. Still, for more than a decade, the "boy in the bag" as the child had become known, went unidentified.

In January of 2005, the case would be solved. An Uncle would return to the area where his family lived and start asking questions about where his nephew was. He was never given a straight answer and he decided to visit the web site of the National Center For Missing And Exploited Children. At the site, he would see the bust that had been made of the missing child. He noticed that the boy looked a lot like his missing nephew, Jerell Willis and notified the Philadelphia police who started investigating the case again.

Camden County Prosecutor, Vincent P. Sarubbi said that authorities would begin investigating the case, that they were waiting on DNA tests which would prove the child was related to the woman who was charged in his murder, his mother, Alicia Robinson. Alicia had been arrested and charged with abuse of a corpse and also with hindering apprehension. Police did not immediately release the name of the child since they were waiting for positive proof of who he was.

Homicide Lt. Michael Chitwood said that the "boy in the bag" was
apparently killed in another jurisdiction and then dumped in Old City:

"As far as the mystery of who he is and who killed him, we know that,. It is just a matter 
of the other dominoes falling into place"

Police were still trying to sort out the details of how the child died and how his body came to rest in the vacant lot. At that time, they knew that Alicia and a man who had not yet been name had taken a bus, carrying the duffel bag with the remains of Jerell inside, to Old City. They had then taken his body to the vacant lot and left him there.

On March 29, 2005, a statement was released saying that finally, the boy in the bag was identified:

"This little boy in a bag who was known previously only his maker is now known to the world" 
Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham.

The child was positively identified as Jerell Willis, a four year old who was the son of Alicia Robinson, the woman in custody:

"It's a real shame Mary Peck isn't around for the identification. Peck, who died two years ago, 
really cared for that little boy"
Frank Bender - Forensic Sculptor

Camden  County Prosecutor, Vincent P. Sarubbi said that the child had grown up in a home that was violent and that the New Jersey Division Of Youth And Family Services had been to their Camden apartment to check on complaints of abuse against Jerell. There were two other children living in the apartment when DYFS visited, however, the allegations of abuse were not confirmed, according to Andy Williams:

"The last contact we had with them was in October 1993, 
when the case was closed"

Andy Williams, with that agency, said that the file on that family had been closed and that DYFS was going to do an internal investigation of the case and how it had been handled.

Ted Quallie, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Department Of Human Services said that Alicie had nine other children who had not been the report of any abuse or neglect and were living with the father of the two youngest of the nine children.

Lawrence Robinson would later be identified as the other person who was involved in the death of Jerell. Alicia, in a statement of probable cause, told investigators that she and Lawrence had hit Jarell many times until he became lethargic and then went unconscious. Alicia said it was around January of 1994 during a major snow storm. 

Alicia said that neither of them tried to get any medical help for Jarell at all and they didn't contact anyone about his death. After he died, they stuffed his body into the bag and left him under the Benjamin Franklin Bridge:

"They both did it together. They found the first empty or vacant lot, and that's where they 
placed the bag"
Vincent P. Sarubbi

Then on May 27, 1994 someone passing by the lot, saw the bag, opened it and found the remains of Jerell Willis.

On April 22, 2005, Alicia Williams was in court without a lawyer. Her bail was set at $500,000, for what she did to her son. In addition to the charges she already faced, abusing a corpse and hindering arrest, New Jersey authors had added a charge of murder to the list. The trial date was set for February of 2005. Bail was set so high because Judge Linda G. Baxter considered Alicia to be at great risk for flight.

"I'm asking the court to appoint an attorney" 
Alicia Williams

Lawrence Robinson who at times went by the name Jevon Willis, would be arraigned at a later date. At the time of Alicia's arraignment, Lawrence was in Riverfront State Prison where he was serving his second year of an eight year sentence for sexual assault.

On May 3, 2005, Lawrence was in court for his arraignment. While the prosecutors stated the case to the court, Lawrence shook his head and after speaking out loud was told by the judge to allow the Prosecutor to finish:

"Even if what he's saying ain't true. I wasn't even in the house when this happened. I don't 
know how I'm charged with murder"

Because he had use several aliases, birth dates and different Social Security numbers and had been on the run for seven hears due to the sexual assault charges, Lawrence's bail was set at $750,000. by the Judge, Linda Baxter.

In July of 2005 a new ceremony was held at the grave site of the child who had previously been known only as the boy in the bag. Absent, were an biological members of his family. The same people who were there the first time a stone was placed to mark his grave, were there for the second stone to be placed. A priest, two nuns and the proud family of Mary Peck were all there to honor Jerell Willis.

Sixteen years after his birth, Jerell Willis was finally given what he deserved in death, the right to be known. Four years after his first funeral where his grave stone said simply "God bless this grave of this unknown boy", a new black granite monument would be put in place to mark the spot where he had been laid to rest. Though Jarell's 
family had failed him, once again, strangers would show that he was loved and cared about.

"I think I'll have to make up a prayer, because there's nothing in the Book for a situation like this" 
Father John McNamee

Father John McNamee once again stood over Jerell Willis and asked God to look after the child who had been brought to him along a hard road of violence. After he heard about the funeral, Jim Travis donated a new grave maker:

"I had to do a brand-new monument. I didn't want to just squeeze in the new words. 
It wouldn't be right"
Jim Travis

Father John McNamee said later:

"All graves should be marked in a world that is right.
We should know one another by name, as God does"

Also at the grave site was Sister Catherine Denny who said:

"The good that comes out of evil"

During the ceremony, Harry Peck, his wife Sonya and his sister Charlan cried. They and the nuns at St. Malachy had been the ones to come up with the design for the new monument to honor Jerell Willis. Jim Travis carved the new monument out of South African Granite. The stone reads: 

Jerell Willis

July 1, 1989 - January 1994

Called "Tarcisius" by Mary Peck of St. Malachy 
Parish until his own name came to light.

An image of Jesus holding a child under a dove was etched next to the words and the words "Safely home" were also etched into the stone.


On June 5, 2007 Alicia Robinson was in court. Prosecutors dropped the charge of murder, against her in exchanged for her testimony against her husband, Lawrence Robinson.

Alicia plead guilty to hindering apprehension and her sentence was to be ONLY five years in prison. I personally believe all of the people involved in making that sentence happen should be totally embarrassed. With the time she had served, she could be free before the trial of her husband even began.

According to her testimony, Alicia said that Lawrence had called her to go home and watch Jerell so that he could go to a job interview. Marcia Soast, her attorney said:

"And when you came home, it was evident that Jerell was in some sort of distress" 

Holding back tears, she answered with a yes. Alicia said that Lawrence then told her that Jarell was dead:

"In fact, he was beaten to death by your boyfriend at the time"
Marcia Soast

Alicia again answered with a yes. Alicia also admitted to helping lawrence put her sons body into a bag and that they went together on the bus to Philadelphia where they left the bag in the vacant lot under the bridge.

Alicia Robinson admitted to helping Lawrence stuff the boy into a bag. They rode together on a bus from their Camden apartment to Philadelphia, where she said he dumped the bag in a vacant lot under the bridge.

Lawrence Robinson continued to say he was innocent and his trial date was set for July. Joel Mayer, his attorney said:

"He wasn't home when this happened. She was the one who called him"

Joel Mayer said that prosecutors had tried to get Lawrence to plead guilty and testify against Alicia, Lawrence was not willing to admit any guilt in Jerell's death, at all:

"They're putting a lot of faith in her. There is no forensic evidence in this case that points a finger to Lawrence Robinson. They need her and they're willing to let her off the hook on a murder"
Joel Mayer

Marcia Soast stated that Alicia's story had been investigated and that detectives had talked to her other children who confirmed that Alicia had never been abusive towards them, however, Lawrence had:

"Her version was the truthful and credible one"
Marcia Soast

Alicia has ten other children with the last one having been born while she was in jail. Most of her children shared Lawrence as a father. They weren't married until after the death of Jerell. The remaining children had been placed in the custody of other family members:

Joel Mayer said:

"It's always been a surprise to me how the mother of a young child would remain silent for so 
long if anyone else had committed an act of violence to her children"

Prosecutors noted that Lawrence had a violent past. Lawrence had been convicted several years ago and was sentenced to either years in prison for sexual assault. Lawrence is not scheduled to go to trial until later in the year 2009.


<>Today is June 17, 2014 and whlie doing a search for information in Jerell's case, I found no new information.

Death occurred in the state of Hawaii
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