Big Willie, Big Trouble

One-man Crime Spree May Now Be Linked To High-Profile Disappearances

Eric Wilson, known on the streets of Cleveland as "Big" or "Big Willie," is best known for starting the gunfight that killed 12-year-old Asteve'e "Cookie" Thomas in September 2007. But by the time Cookie was murdered, Wilson already had a long history of kidnapping young women from the West Side and transporting them to the East Side, where they were raped and held captive. Victims came forward when they saw his picture on the news after Cookie's murder, and last fall he was convicted of four counts of rape and two counts of kidnapping. He's currently behind bars awaiting yet another rape trial.

As the search for mis-sing 15-year-old Ashley Summers continues, police and FBI have begun to wonder if Wilson was somehow involved in her disappearance. She left an apartment on Holmden Avenue on July 6, 2007, and has not been seen by her family since. At that time, Wilson often crashed at a house on Holmden, just a few doors down from where Ashley was staying. Ashley's disappearance was first treated as a runaway but is now assumed to have been an abduction, possibly connected to the more well-known West Side kidnappings of Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, according to investigators. In a surreal twist that speaks to the progress of cheap technology, Ashley's story was "tweeted" by Ashton Kutcher and M.C. Hammer last week. Anyone with real information on Ashley's whereabouts can contact the feds at 216.522.1400. - James Renner


A month ago, when county Sheriff Gerald "Nothin' To See Here" McFaul thwacked "that asshole" Plain Dealer reporter Mark Puente in the back at a press conference and bellowed, "Don't ever come to my house again!," it was like an angry leprechaun had emerged to lead the county's largest law-enforcement agency. But that was just the sober, deliberating McFoul. Puente had just reported how 18 layoffs within McFoul's department coincided with plum ascensions for relatives and friends. The sheriff responded by asking Puente if he was Spanish. "I'm Mexican," said Puente, to which McFoul threatened to demote all his department's Puerto Ricans. Really.

It was the beginning of a long saga for the sheriff, who rose from pipefitter to Cleveland councilman in 1967 and then on to Sheriff Until Death in 1978: Stories about the discovery of tapes with McFoul asking a witness not to testify against him in 1986; about appointing appraisers friendly to his campaign; about workday fundraising for his staffers; and, most recently, about how he comes to work an average of one day a week. You could excuse the occasional tirade if this was some new attitude he'd developed in his twilight years. But this is actually McFoul As He Always Has Been.

When he was a councilman under Mayor Louis Stokes, McFoul decked a city official, Kylie Cronin, at a St. Patrick's Day Party. Recalls the late Cronin's wife, Nancy, a past president of the City Club: "They got into a discussion on race and prejudice and so forth, and that's when it got hot. My husband and I were very active in civil rights, going way back." Her husband came out on the losing end. "As I remember," says Cronin, "he just came home and went to bed."

McFoul had a stroke last year, and some longtime contemporaries like Collinwood Councilman Mike Polensek entreat people to consider that. "When you've been in as long as he's been in, it's hard to turn and walk," says Polensek. "I can understand that. But to keep whaling on him, what is that going to accomplish? He's acknowledged that he's gotta go. He's gonna go." He does, but he hasn't. When 19 Action News asked if he planned to leave office, he replied, "No fucking way." - Dan Harkins


Sweeneymander (verb), a variation of gerrymander, the process by which a council president eliminates two political opponents under the guise of "right-sizing."

The word became part of the lexicon at Cleveland City Hall last week after it got out that Council President Martin Sweeney's consultant-stamped ward-reduction plan (due April 1) would excise two of his toughest critics: Old Brooklyn's Brian Cummins in Ward 15 and Mt. Pleasant's Zack Reed in Ward 3. According to preliminary drafts given to Scene by Cummins, the shuffle will also chop two of the city's most historic neighborhoods into mincemeat. On the West Side, Old Brooklyn would be divided into three different wards (12, 13 and 16) and Brooklyn Center would be torn in half. Over on the west, Mt. Pleasant, which runs along Kinsman Road, would be severed into four parts.

Reed is livid.

"I'm not one of their types of councilmen," he says. "I'm not the type to look at a blue wall and say 'It's black' because they tell me to say it's black. But why should Mt. Pleasant suffer because they sent me down there to represent them?"

He says if Sweeney doesn't amend the draft to preserve his neighborhood within one ward, he'll run against Mamie Mitchell, who took over for Ward 6's Pat Britt when she became council clerk. Not because she's the most vulnerable, contends Reed, but because she's the benefactor of the largest and most historic part of Reed's ward.

And Cummins, a freshman bow-tie-flashing student of government, says that if he can't get Sweeney to reconsider, he just might run against Sweeney's majority whip, Kevin Kelley of Ward 16. Cummins ran the community development corporation there from 2001-2005.

"The act of redistricting is probably one of the most political things that can occur," says Cummins. "It's quite simple - simple and brutal, frankly." Then Cummins shows how he hates keeping his mouth shut. He says Bob Dikes, head of the consultancy hired to help Sweeney with the redistricting, told him the reason Mamie Mitchell's new ward would wrap around longtime Councilman Ken Johnson's ward "like a big hug" was because "it was recognized that Ken Johnson is a longstanding councilman on the East Side, so in respect to him, his ward is not going to be impacted."

Collinwood Councilman Mike Polensek says it's just like the old days, when he narrowly escaped being banished by Council President George Forbes back in 1981. "I woke up and I had to run in a new ward. I said, 'George, what the hell are you doing?' And he said, 'Hey, it's nothing personal, Mike. It's politics.' Sweeney, he told me, 'If I could put you in Euclid, I would have done it in a heartbeat.' I said, 'Put Collinwood in Bratenahl, and you got my vote.' "It is what it is." - Harkins

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