When her kid brother’s birthday arrives each December, Cherisse Taylor lights a single candle in his memory.
“I still celebrate,” said Taylor, whose brother John “Spone” Taylor was murdered 22 years ago in the first month of the new millennium. “I put pictures up. I tell my kids a lot of stories.”
The sister remains hopeful of closure for her brother’s fatal stabbing inside a Staten Island apartment: A long-elusive arrest in the cold case where John suddenly disappeared in January 2000. His corpse went undiscovered for 11 years, and his killing remains unsolved another 11 years down the road.
“I just want to find out what happened,” Cherisse Taylor told the Daily News. “He was only 19.”
Her yearning for answers received a boost last month when the NYPD released a photo of her brother, part of a renewed effort to develop leads in the gruesome case where his skeletal remains were found in a Staten Island home after Hurricane Irene hit in 2011.
The victim was last seen alive by his girlfriend on Jan. 4, 2000, when the couple watched television at a friend’s apartment before she departed. When Eurydice Williams stopped by the same location two days later, she entered what undeniably looked like the scene of a homicide.
“The house was a mess,” she recalled. “It was more than a mess. There was blood everywhere.”
But there was no body to be found when police responded. Williams recalls a suspect was identified in the killing, but no one was ever arrested or charged.
Taylor’s corpse finally turned up when the Staten Island building’s landlord — cleaning up after the 2011 storm flooded the borough — found a skull inside a jacket, along with four bones, all left inside a cramped crawl space.
An ID recovered with the remains identified the victim as John Taylor, and an autopsy showed a fatal stab wound.
According to a Staten Island Advance story at the time, the address was a known drug location and the killing was possibly the result of a drug dealer’s missing stash — once hidden in the same crawl space.
The discovery of Taylor’s remains didn’t change much. The murder case remains an open investigation, with the new push leading to cautious hopes for an arrest despite the long lapse of time.
“In their eyes, he was just a troublemaker,” said Cherisse Taylor of past investigators into her sibling’s death. “That’s how they looked at him. But I didn’t see him as a troublemaker. I saw him as a brother.”
Williams, recalling how Taylor loved to make people laugh, insisted the drug angle was inaccurate.
Cherisse remembered her brother as a creative kid, drawing animated characters and taking art classes in school. As he grew older, John would come by her house to play with her daughters.
But he was busted at age 16 for stealing a car after falling in with the “wrong crowd” in high school, she said. And a Staten Island man familiar with the victim said neighborhood scuttlebutt suggested his death was possibly drug-related.
“I don’t think he had a lot of friends,” he said. “He created a hostile environment for himself. I’m hearing he had a lot of enemies.”
Cherisse instead recalled her brother’s epiphany after welcoming his newborn daughter less than a month before his disappearance.
“There were so many things he wanted to do,” she recalled. “When he became a father, he told me that his whole life changed and he was going to do right.”