Whenever Stella Hancock asked a disheveled man walking along 112th Street in Watts how he was doing, he would always reply "I'm blessed."
Friday night, the "I'm Blessed Man" was stabbed to death at Evers Avenue and 112th, near the northeast boundary of Nickerson Gardens.
I've covered with care scores of homicides in Watts, but something about this one struck me in a different way when I looked into it Saturday morning. I guess it was because nobody I talked to knew him, nobody seemed all that sad or shocked to learn someone had been killed nearby, nobody even seemed to care much. And all that is extremely uncharacteristic of this community.
Hancock, long-time Nickerson resident who now lives across the street from the infamous projects, came home around 7:20 Friday night to see a face-down man who she believed to be sleeping, his body slumped half on her lawn up against a chain-link fence, half on the sidewalk.
"I told him 'You can't stay here', but he didn't respond," said Hancock. So, her friend nudged him. "She said he was cold. We called 911."
Two, three minutes later, the paramedics arrived, and took the man away.
An hour or so later, 12 miles north, I was with my friend - and LAPD homicide detective - Sal LaBarbera when he got a text there had been a killing in Watts Where?, I asked. He checked. 1500 East 112th Street. "That's the Nickersons," I said. Sal checked further and learned it had been a stabbing, which is rare, and the victim was apparently an "old man". I figured I check it tomorrow.
I did. Intriguingly, outside the Nickerson Gardens gym, Mission Control of the projects, nobody knew who the dead guy was. When I later told some friends that Stella Hancock said he always said "I'm blessed', Big Hank, legend, said "Smoker. Crack head. They always say that. 'I'm blessed'. I guess all the shit they've been though and if they are still standing they think they are blessed."
A little while later, I headed by back home. on the Harbor Freeway listening to a John Coltrane CD I had brought in the morning. Track 12 came on. I had never heard it, "Dear Lord." It was achingly beautiful and it made me think of the "I'm Blessed Man."
Who was he? I thought about Harry Bosch.."Everybody counts or nobody counts." Last night, Det LaBarbera found out the dead man's name, Samuel Benton He was 63. i'm gonna find out who Sammy Benton was.