Sunday, 24 February 2008
12:54:33 AM (GMT)
The story of Lattie McGee and Cornelius Abraham is one of almost unbelievable abuse
and cruelty, and yet it is also one of courage and hope.
On August 14, 1987, in a hot South Side Chicago apartment, police and paramedics
found the tortured body of four-year-old Lattie McGee. Over the summer, when many
inner-city children were outside enjoying splashing in the flow of spraying water
hydrants, little Lattie was being systematically tortured by his mother and her
The then 28-year-old Alicia Abraham and her 40-year old boyfriend, Johnny Campbell,
spent the summer beating the small boy with their fists, burning him with cigarettes
and an iron, dunking his small legs into boiling water, depriving him of food and
water, sticking him repeatedly with sewing needles and then wrapping a clothing line
around his tiny raw ankles and hanging him upside down in the closet for the night.
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To muffle the innocent boy's cries, the couple would sometimes stuff a rag in his
Campbell did not like the 4-year-olds "effeminate" voice so to toughen the young boy
he would starve him then beat him if he complained. On the hot August night, Campbell
and Alicia stuffed a rag into Lettie's mouth, potato peels were placed on his eyes,
his hands were bound, and he was hung by his feet in the closet. His complaints of
having problems swallowing and that he was in pain from the broken collarbone and
broken pelvis, were ignored.
Flesh Ripped Away
The next morning Alicia Abraham seemed more concerned with watching TV then getting
Lattie down from the closet. It would not have mattered because he died sometime
during the night. There was no more pleasure for her and her boyfriend to get from
abusing this innocent child.
Pathologist said Lattie died of a severe blow to the head that slowly killed him, but
they added, "His emaciated body, scarred from head to foot, was so infected from
untreated wounds that he probably would have died a short time later." When the
paramedics and police lifted the boy's shirt, they uncovered a chest of raw skin, his
flesh ripped away from repeated abuse.
Not the Only Victim
There was another child in the home, six-year-old Cornelius Abraham, Lattie's
brother. With courage, the young boy testified against the Alicia and Campbell. He
recounted all the episodes of abuse that he and Lattie suffered.
For their crimes, Johnny Campbell and Alicia Abraham were both sentenced to life in
Remarkably, two years earlier in 1985, Alicia Abraham was being counseled for
neglecting her children by state investigators, who incredibly concluded the
situation had improved.
Out of Despair, Hope
Cornelius, who showed much courage, was eventually sent to live with his biological
father. Sadly, his father also neglected him, and at age 12, he was homeless and on
his own for three months. After five more tumultuous years, Cornelius was placed with
a pair of loving foster parents. In time, Cornelius grew close to them and today
calls them "Mom and Dad."
After graduating from high school, he went on to college. In 1999, the YMCA Network
for Counseling and Youth Development of Greater Chicagoland presented Cornelius with
the first ever, Cornelius S. Abraham Award, designed to give hope to children who
have suffered from abuse.
As summer ends, I cannot help to think of Lettie, who would be 20 years old now.
Since I first read the Abraham brothers' story of the monstrous cruelty at the hands
of their caregivers, I think of Lettie at summer's end. I will never understand what
makes people, such as Alicia and Campbell, do the horrific cruel acts to small
children, and in a way, I hope I never do understand it. Then I refocus and think of
Cornelius -- so brave, so determined to beat the odds -- and I send a silent wish to
him: that his life is now one of peace and happiness.
Janet Martin, the writer of this article, is a frequent visitor to the About Crime &
Punishment site, and lives in the Chicago area.
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