S T. L O U I S, Jan. 9, 2003 -- As the minister of a small church in a tough St. Louis neighborhood, the Rev. Inuka Mwanguzi is confronted every day with the cruel realities of crime, drugs and prostitution. But she never imagined the depth of the danger lurking in the city streets — until the night she had a conversation with a killer.
In her community outreach work, Mwanguzi opens her home to women whose lives have been ravaged by drugs, most often crack cocaine. She calls them society's "throwaway" people.
"Their families do everything they can, but after a while, they don't know what to do, and so they give up on them, and they pull away from them," says Mwanguzi.
Alysa Greenwade, recently out of jail and back on drugs, was one of the women she tried to help. The 34-year-old mother of two lived with Mwanguzi — when she wasn't walking the streets and hustling for crack — and called the minister "Mom."
"She felt trapped, you know, and she knew that what was happening with her was wrong, it was not good for her," says Mwanguzi. "She knew all of this. What she didn't know was how to get out of it."
A Late-Night Call
Late one night, when Mwanguzi was fast asleep, the telephone woke her up. It was an excited Greenwade, who wanted Mwanguzi to speak with a man she had met that evening. Mwanguzi hesitated at first, but then agreed to talk to the unknown man.
"We sort of didn't know what to say to each other, but we kind of made up a little conversation," Mwanguzi recalls. "I told him, I said, 'You got my girl over there.' And he said, 'Yes.' He said, 'But you don't have to worry about her tonight because she's with me, and she's safe.'"
The next day — less than nine hours after the phone call — Greenwade was found dead. Her partially clothed body had been dumped on a back road. She had been tied up, tortured and finally strangled.
Mwanguzi says she believes the man she talked to that night was the man who police say killed Greenwade — Maury Travis, a 35-year-old St. Louis waiter.
Read about suspected serial killer Maury Travis.
She says she remains haunted by his words to her.
"I realized how weird it was for him to say she's safe," says Mwanguzi. "Why would he say she's safe?"
Mwanguzi believes the killer preyed on Greenwade and women like her because he thought family and friends wouldn't notice their disappearances. And now she wonders what could have been done to save them.
"Maybe if an intervention had happened earlier or — I just, I just felt like it didn't have to happen."
For more information on Rev. Mwanguzi's Unity Outreach programs, please write to:
Unity OutreachP.O. Box 150431 St. Louis, MO 63115-3053