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About 7:15 a.m. on Saturday, November 27, 1999, 49-year-old Willie Junior Brocks was found in front of a home in the 400 block of 15th St. SE in Cedar Rapids. He had been shot in the head.
Brocks resided at 702-1/2 L St. SW in Cedar Rapids, and according to Brenna Griffith, the mother of six of his children, Brocks had friends and relatives in southeast Cedar Rapids and it wouldn’t have been unusual for him to be there.
Neighborhood residents described Brocks, who used to live in the area, as a happy-go-lucky person popular for the unique bicycles he created and rode around the neighborhood.
“I never thought I’d see the day when I didn’t see that man smile,” Brenda Houlsworth, 34, of 1442 Fourth Ave. SE told the Gazette in an article published November 28, 1999.
Houlsworth said she’d known Brocks for 11 years. Brocks may have had his flaws, she said, but he was a good person and respected by those who knew him.
“Part of me don’t want to believe it,” she said about his death. “It’s just crazy.”
Brocks’ body was removed from the crime scene after an examination by Linn County Medical Examiner Percy Harris. Harris referred all questions to Cedar Rapids police.
Brocks and Griffith were together from 1977 to 1994, and though they did not marry, she said he regularly saw his children, ages 6 to 20 (Cedar Rapids Gazette, Nov. 29, 1999).
In addition to his children with Griffith, Brocks had two other children. He’d lived in Cedar Rapids since 1977 and had worked as a painter and construction worker.
Brocks had a criminal past — including a 1991 arrest for selling crack cocaine to an undercover police officer — but Griffith said she didn’t believe he’d recently been in trouble with the law.
Brocks had, however, told an Iowa judge he’d been threatened for being a police informant.
A Gazette story published December 1, 1999, said court records showed an undercover police officer paid Willie Brocks for introduction to drug dealers in his southeast Cedar Rapids neighborhood. Brocks also claimed he was threatened in prison and assaulted at least once for being a police informant.
Brocks was sentenced May 13, 1994, to up to 10 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of selling crack cocaine to the undercover Cedar Rapids officer the previous June. Brocks served his sentence at Anamosa, Clarinda, and the Iowa Medical & Classification Center at Oakdale, and was released from Clarinda’s correctional facility on May 12, 1999.
In a September 23, 1994 letter Brocks sent from Anamosa State Penitentiary to one of the judges who’d presided over his case, Brocks had written, in part:
I went and seen my counselor two times about some of the people threatening me. And telling me what they are going to do to me.
I had enemies (at Oakdale) also. These are some of the people I was in trouble with. They keep saying I snitched on them, and I would like to get out of here and go to a program treatment place. (Courtesy the Gazette, Dec. 1, 1999)
Police declined to comment as to whether Brocks was an informant. In the Dec. 1 Gazette article written by Steve Gravelle, police Lt. Bernie Walther said even confirming Brocks was an informant could endanger other investigations.
In a Gazette guest column published two days later, Cantana Boucher wrote about Brocks’ murder and concerted efforts needed by the city as a whole. Boucher and her husband, Scott, had ministered in Cedar Rapids for five years and known Brocks.
“Right now, I am crocheting a crib blanket for Willie Brocks’ new grandson. Therefore, this crime is very real to us,” Boucher wrote in her column.
Boucher’s list of solutions included a “Scared Straight” program, action against slumlords, a no-loitering law, having a “helpful house” on each block,” and a larger free clinic. Citywide and hands-on support from residents and Cedar Rapids public servants could make a big difference, she said.
Boucher also encouraged churches and other organizations to get involved in Cedar Rapids’ inner-city area.
“A few carry the full burden,” she wrote, and “they simply cannot do it all.”
In March 2001, Cedar Rapids police made a public plea seeking information in Brocks’ slaying.
“Investigators are still looking for more leads,” Police Sgt. Cristy Hamblin said in a Crime Stoppers reminder issued Friday, March 2, 2001, and reported in the Gazette on March 3. “The family as well as the Cedar Rapids Police Department would like to solve this homicide,” Hamblin said.
Hamblin said officials had followed up on numerous leads and interviewed dozens of individuals in connection with Brocks’ homicide.
Those with information were encouraged to call 1-800-CR-CRIME. Callers could remain anonymous and might be eligible for a reward, said Hamblin.
To date, Willie “Junior” Brocks’ murder remains unsolved.
Willie Brocks was born August 1, 1950, in Camden, Ark., the son of Robert Brocks and Mamie Tatum. He enjoyed lifting weights, jogging, music, fishing, swimming and baseball.
Memorial services were held at 11 a.m. Saturday, December 4, 1999, at Turner Chapel East, with the Rev. Marlon Perkins officiating. Burial was at Oak Hill Cemetery in Cedar Rapids.
Survivors included his eight children, Nelson Brocks, Nathan Brocks, Na Shay Brocks, Natalie Brocks, Nyle Brocks, Neil Brocks, Tyree Cooper and Ermalena Brocks, all of Cedar Rapids; his mother, Mamie Tatum of Camden, Ark.; a brother, Clyde Arnold of Camden, Ark.; four sisters, Shirley Browning of Camden, Ark., Joyce Smith of Kansas City, Mo., Carolyn Scott of Camden, Ark., and Judy Watkins of Edgewood, Md.; and friend, Brenna Griffith of Cedar Rapids.
Brocks was preceded in death by his father, Robert Brocks; and a sister, Nailrine Brocks.
The Cedar Rapids Police Department currently has two Cold Case Unit volunteer investigators who work exclusively on unsolved homicides. These investigators work closely with other investigators from both the Cedar Rapids Police Department and other law enforcement agencies.
The current investigator assigned to the Cold Case Unit is J.D. Smith, a retired Agent for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
If you have any information about Willie Junior Brocks’ unsolved murder please call the Cold Case Unit at (319) 286-5919 or email Investigator J.D. Smith.
Linn County Crime Stoppers accepts anonymous tips, and rewards for information may be available. Crime Stoppers may be reached at 1-800-CS-CRIME (319) 272-7463.