Family long haunted by an unsolved murder fears another

STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Bishop Barry Connelly with his wife, Doris, attend a tribute on Tuesday for their son Eugene, who was fatally shot June 24. Connelly lost his brother in a 1968 murder that went unsolved. This time he hopes witnesses step up.
STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Bishop Barry Connelly with his wife, Doris, attend a tribute on Tuesday for their son Eugene, who was fatally shot June 24. Connelly lost his brother in a 1968 murder that went unsolved. This time he hopes witnesses step up.
Posted: July 03, 2014

THE LAST TIME police told Bishop Barry Connelly they had little information and no leads in the death of a loved one, it was 1968.

His brother George Connelly, a 33-year-old father who was putting himself through school by driving a cab, had been found bound by the neck to a tree in a wooded area of Southwest Philadelphia. His hands were tied behind him. He had been stabbed repeatedly in the face, neck, head and body.

Now Bishop Connelly, the longtime pastor of Cathedral of Faith Baptist Church in North Philly, sat in a detective's car as he was told that his youngest son, Eugene Connelly, was dead. The 28-year-old was shot twice in the chest, police said, when someone opened fire on his car about 9:10 a.m. June 24 on Archer Street near Butler. He was taken to Temple University Hospital and pronounced dead minutes later. Police said they knew of no motive or suspects.

And once again, a family that had long been haunted by an unsolved murder feared another.

Eugene Connelly was the youngest son of Barry and Doris Connelly, a religious couple who raised their blended family in the church. The little boy grew up in Elkins Park under loving and watchful eyes. When Eugene ran into trouble with some rough teenagers from a nearby housing project, the family moved to Williamstown, N.J. And when Eugene started to get into trouble there, they moved back to Philadelphia. Police said records from 2004 to 2009 show drug and firearms-related charges in New Jersey. Records also show a 2012 driving under the influence charge in Philadelphia.

Early on, Eugene had a natural talent for music. He played the drums and easily mastered the organ. He sang, and eventually became the minister of music at the church where his father recently celebrated his 51st year of service.

But when Eugene wasn't in church, he dreamed of a career as a rapper. Under the stage name Shane-O, the popular musician released numerous CDs and performed in several cities. He also appeared in a movie with actor Ving Rhames called "Brotherly Love."

Bishop Connelly, 68, didn't approve of his youngest son's rap aspirations, or his numerous tattoos. But the elder Connelly came to accept it.

"I told him, 'Son . . . those are really not the best lyrics for a person who attends church.' But when I saw he was determined, I stopped debating him."

He didn't stop worrying.

"Every time I would go to his house, there would be different people," Bishop Connelly said. "My wife and I said, 'Gene, if something happened to you, we wouldn't know who was at fault. You hang around so many different people.' "

Eugene's older sister Sherron Sloan said her brother was too trusting. "That might have led to his demise," she said.

This past Easter, as Eugene was getting out of his car near his home on 34th Street, someone shot at him and shattered one of his windows. He escaped with some minor injuries and stayed with his parents near East Oak Lane for a few weeks.

When he was asked if he knew who was behind the shooting, he said he didn't. But when his father pushed him - "Gene, you got to know!" - he told his father he wasn't talking.

"He told me, 'I don't like to be a snitch,' " Bishop Connelly said. "I said, 'Gene, a live snitch is better than a dead hero.' I said, 'Gene, they're going to come back and next time it's going to be worse.' "

There is no indication yet that the two events are related. But it's hard not to wonder if it foreshadowed what was to pass just two months later. Something Eugene seemed to anticipate in a song called "Pray."

"Every day I pray that the Lord saves me," he sang. "Every day I pray that the streets don't take me."

Bishop Connelly said if he could, he would have moved his son out of the city after the first shooting, the same way he used to move him away from trouble when he was a just a boy.

But his youngest son was a man now, a father of four. And the only thing Bishop Connelly could do was plead with him to talk to police and to stay with him and his mother.

"He could have lived here and started a whole new life," Bishop Connelly said. "He chose to go back. Sad choice. Sad."

What also saddens the extended family that gathered at a musical tribute to Eugene at the church Tuesday night and then again at the funeral yesterday is that once again they are left with more questions than answers.

In 1990, 22 years after George Connelly was brutally killed in a secluded section of Philadelphia, another brother, Lawton Connelly, talked to the Inquirer about the unsolved murder.

Then the captain of the city's homicide unit, Lawton said he understood the pain families endured when a loved one's murder went unsolved. He was still hopeful his brother's death would be solved.

He retired a year later. His brother's death remains a cold case.

Although the two Connellys never met, George and Eugene shared a common passion for music in life. George Connelly hoped to be a music teacher.

The two men also share something in death.

Old news accounts said there were witnesses in George's murder.

Eugene's family believes there were witnesses to Eugene's killing last week, too.


There is a $20,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible in either of the Connelly deaths. Anyone with information is asked to call 215-686-3334 or 3335, or the tip line, 215-686-TIPS (8477), or to text PPD TIP (773847).


Email: ubinas@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas

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