Drawing by Mandy Fitzgerald
Thea Brown first met Kathryn Harvey while attending Virginia Commonwealth University in the early ’90s, back when there were more prostitutes on West Grace Street than chain restaurants. Brown was green-haired and penniless, and Harvey, the quick-witted owner of a shop on the strip. The store, World of Mirth, was then a repository of kitsch and tchotchkes, the kind of place you’d go to find something for which you didn’t even know you were looking.
What Brown found was a friend. She and Harvey stayed in touch, and years later, in 2004, Harvey hired Brown to manage the store, reinvented as a Carytown toy shop. There, children pinball between displays in dizzying awe, and even grown-ups gape like wide-eyed babes upon first entry.
New Year’s Day marks 10 years since Harvey, 39, was murdered in her Woodland Heights home. She was killed along with her husband, Bryan, 49, and their two daughters, Stella and Ruby. The girls were just 9 and 4.
The two killers, whom authorities say were looking for a house to rob, slipped in through an open front door. After binding and killing the family, the pair set the house on fire. Five days later, the bodies of three more victims, Mary Baskerville Tucker, Percyell Tucker and their daughter, Ashley Baskerville, were discovered in their home on East Broad Rock Road. Police say Ashley was an accomplice to the Harvey family murders, serving as a lookout. The killers were arrested a few days later in Philadelphia, and found guilty of several counts of murder. One was sentenced to life in prison, the other to death. The latter lost an appeal in November.
The Harveys’ family and friends find it difficult to speak of their deaths. They say they don’t want how the family died to continue to overshadow how they lived — or the good that has been done in their memories.
“One terrible act didn’t have to define, not only them, but us, the store and Richmond as a whole,” Brown says.
That process of redefinition, of finding meaning, is not an easy thing to do. The murder of the Harvey family, in its randomness and brutality, became seared into the city’s collective memory.
“To me, they were a normal, creative, fun family,” says Chris Zechini, a close friend of the Harveys. “Bryan and Kathy got up every morning and went to work. Our kids had sleepovers. We vacationed together. We enjoyed the company of lots of friends. I thought we would all grow old together.”
Bryan, a singer and guitarist, was a fixture on the city’s music scene in the ’80s and ’90s, performing often at venues and house shows around town. He was best known for his stint with the duo House of Freaks, which toured the West Coast and released multiple charting singles. Kathryn, a VCU graduate, was an entrepreneur determined to strengthen Richmond’s local business scene. Friends and family say the couple was committed to the city and relished being a part of the tide of urban renewal that has, in the time since their deaths, lifted Richmond’s reputation.
Their deaths provoked an outpouring of grief the likes of which this city — no stranger to senseless violence — hasn’t seen since. “It was totally unthinkable,” says Jim Bland, owner of Plan 9 Records and Kathryn’s business partner. “Even if you were once or twice removed, you still felt that pain.”
More than 1,000 people crammed into the Byrd Theatre to mourn the family. The Rev. Alane Cameron Miles led the service. Sorrow overtook the community, in part, Miles says, because of the nature of the crime: A family with two young children killed for no reason.
Fear lingered well after the perpetrators were brought to justice. People bought big dogs and guns, Miles says. They locked their front doors religiously, and answered them for no one. Some moved out of the city. In the 18 months that followed the murders, Miles counseled hundreds of people, some of whom never met the couple, she says, but for whom their deaths stirred past trauma or grief.
That loss, though, has bred determination in those who knew the family to keep saying their names, and to reclaim their memory, as Miles puts it.
In the aftermath, Zechini set up a charitable fund in the family’s name. The Bryan and Kathryn Harvey Family Memorial Endowment has donated a grand piano to Richmond Public Schools, funded the construction of a musical playground at the Children’s Museum of Richmond and provided support for the School of Performing Arts in the Richmond Community [SPARC] and Art 180, a nonprofit that works with at-risk youth. “We wanted to honor them in a way that wasn’t artificial,” says Mark Harvey, Bryan’s brother.
For Thea Brown, honoring her friend means getting out of bed on days when it would be easier to hide beneath the covers, safe from uncomfortable exchanges with well-meaning customers whose curiosity about what happened to the Harveys unsettles her. She does so because being in the shop, managing the staff, carrying on Kathryn’s vision, has helped her find solace. The store is owned by the Harvey estate and Bland. Brown is the only remaining full-time employee from that time.
“The store was her first baby,” Brown says, wiping tears from her eyes. “It was important to keep it going.”
World of Mirth closed briefly after the murders, but reopened with a memorial dedicated to its founder and her family near the front of the store. A few months ago, Brown decided to move the memorial to the back of the store. Ten years have passed, she says, and Kathryn didn’t like it when things were stagnant. She’d stand, arms crossed at her waist, her index finger tapping on her elbow, mapping out the next move in her mind. Brown smiles at the thought, and breaks into laughter.
Donations to the Bryan and Kathryn Harvey Family Memorial Endowment can be made here.