Is This Brooklyn’s Jack the Ripper?
Police say Kwauhuru Govan might be a serial killer.
Govan says he “can’t dissect a frog,” let alone be responsible for the grisly New York City murders with which he was charged on Wednesday.
In February 2004, police found 17-year-old Sharabia Thomas’s body stuffed into two laundry bags in an alleyway in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Nearly one year later to the day, another Bushwick teenager, 19-year-old Rashawn Brazell, suffered a similar fate. His body was found dismembered in plastic bags along a subway track. Both cases went cold for over 10 years, until DNA under Thomas’s nails led to Govan’s arrest in November 2016. While awaiting trial on murder and kidnapping charges in Thomas’s case, Govan was charged in February with Brazell’s slaying. Now police are eyeing Govan in two other murders in the neighborhood.
Police hope Govan’s arrest will help solve multiple cold-case murders that have haunted Bushwick since 2004. But Govan, a former Bushwick resident who was arrested in Florida, claims he is being set up. And one person familiar with Brazell’s murder says Govan’s arrest leaves a decade of questions still unanswered.
“They’re framing me for this murder,” Govan shouted during a bizarre Wednesday arraignment in which he was dragged into the courtroom and refused to be fingerprinted. “I can’t even dissect a frog!”
He is charged with two stomach-churning killings.
Thomas, Govan’s first alleged victim, disappeared on Feb. 11, 2004. The high-school senior didn’t show up for her school’s field trip that day, an unusual absence for the shy girl who had ambitions of becoming a fashion designer. Later that day, her body was discovered in two laundry bags in an alleyway. She was naked and badly beaten, with marks indicating that her arms had been tied up. DNA evidence was collected from her body, but not fully tested. She lived two blocks from Govan’s apartment.
One year and three days later, Brazell left his nearby home for a tax appointment, promising to meet his mother for Valentine’s Day lunch that afternoon. Instead, he vanished. Three days later, parts of his body were recovered in a subway tunnel, while other parts were discovered at a recycling plant.
Both cases went cold until 2016, when investigators finally sampled DNA evidence from under Thomas’s nails, and matched it to Govan, who was serving time in a Florida prison on robbery charges. (His criminal record shows a series of robberies, and one assault charge.) He was extradited to New York in November. “Sharabia bravely fought for her life when she was attacked and the evidence that helped to find her alleged killer was discovered under her fingernails,” acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said at the time.
While awaiting trial in Thomas’s killing, Govan was charged again on Wednesday, this time with Brazell’s murder. Unlike in Thomas’s case, police did not announce what alleged evidence may link Govan to Brazell’s death.
Govan’s arrest comes as a surprise to at least one person close to Brazell’s family, who had held private suspicions about another man in the unsolved murder.
Terill King, a documentarian, has known the Brazell family since 2009, when he began working on a documentary about Brazell’s death. Though the case went cold, the Brazell family continued to receive cryptic messages long after their son’s death, King told The Daily Beast.
After Brazell’s death, his family founded a scholarship in his name. But the scholarship manager soon received a strange email “with a defiant tone,” King said. “It contained lines like ‘everyone’s out here saying [Brazell] was an angel. He wasn’t an angel,’ or ‘I paid someone to do it.’”
The email “had a couple of details in it that we thought lined up with someone else the family was suspicious of,” King said. Brazell’s mother began receiving semi-annual letters of her own, either in February around the anniversary of her son’s death, or in April, around Brazell’s birthday.
“His mother would get phone calls, hang-up phone calls, people calling the house saying ‘give it up, do you want to join him?’” King said.
“If they’ve arrested the right person, I wouldn’t know how that email fits into the puzzle at all,” King said.
Now police are investigating whether two other Bushwick-area murders might fit into that puzzle, too. During a Friday press conference, NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce told reporters that investigators were eyeing Govan in two additional killings, one in Brooklyn, and one across the nearby border in Queens.
“This is a strange case obviously,” Boyce said. “But not to look at those [other murders], we’d be remiss,” he said.
The NYPD declined to give more details on the two additional cases, telling The Daily Beast that they were “ongoing active investigations. We will not be discussing the particulars at this time.”
Asked on Friday whether Govan was a serial killer, Boyce told reporters that “there’s a great possibility that might be the case.”
Govan’s lawyer did not return a request for comment as of press time.
Meanwhile, in court, Govan denied even knowing the two Bushwick teens.
“I’ve been framed. I didn’t do this,” he shouted in court during a November appearance. “You got the wrong person.”
King says he is not yet entirely convinced that Govan is a serial killer responsible for Brazell’s death.
“I’m reluctant to celebrate just yet,” he said. “There are a lot of details missing. I hope this is the person.”