It was a memorable name: Thelonious Monk, like the jazz musician.
And when Adam Marton read it, a decade-old memory came flooding back.
Marton is an editor at The Baltimore Sun. He was working on an infographic about the homicides in Baltimore in 2015 — a record 344 deaths, most of them black men, most of them shot to death.
Thelonious Monk was one of those victims. And years before, Marton says, Monk had stolen his car.
“I had dropped it off one evening and someone had fished the key out of a night-drop at the auto body shop,” Marton told NPR’s Renee Montagne on Morning Edition.
It was an inconvenience, that’s all. Marton and his wife got a loaner car from their insurance company and went on vacation.
A few weeks later, he got a call — his car had been found. It was waiting for him at the Baltimore City impound lot.
Marton went to pick it up. As he described on Facebook this week, what he saw in his vehicle has stuck with him ever since:
“Thelonious had installed a baby seat and a subwoofer and the car was strewn with job applications. It was and remains one of the most heartbreaking scenes of my life.”
Marton read from his posting on Morning Edition, choking up as he commented on the differences between his life and Monk’s:
“Our lives crossed, however oddly and briefly, and I can’t help but think that Thelonious probably never had a chance. A chance to escape, a chance to succeed. The opportunities I have always enjoyed. I feel like maybe he was trying to use my car to make a break for it. I wish he had made it.
“Rest in peace, young man, I will never forget you.”
“What I saw in the car told me a story about this man’s life,” Marton told Renee. “It seems at the time, it still seems today, that he took this car but he was kind of trying to make it his own car. ‘I have this car now, now I can have a new life — I can go get a job, and drive my baby around, I can listen to music.’
“I expected to see a crime scene, and what I saw instead was inside somebody’s life.”
Marton doesn’t know many details about how Monk died — he was shot in the chest in southwest Baltimore and died at the hospital.
But since posting on Facebook about the event, Marton says he’s heard from several of Monk’s family members. They remember him as someone who had “a lifestyle that most people think is wrong,” Marton says, but was a good person.
“He was always trying to turn his life around,” Marton says. “They talk about the great loss that they feel now that Thelonius is gone. And I think that’s really telling. Especially when all you have to look at is a criminal record — this was a loved person who was trying to make his life better.”