DETROIT – Close friends Brandan Rogers, 22, and Melynda Goodwin, 19, of Detroit were killed outside the Off Broadway East nightclub early Thursday morning in what police are calling a botched carjacking. Rogers and Goodwin were parked near the club, located on Harper at Norcross on Detroit’s East Side, at about 2:55 a.m. when two men in dark clothing approached them and demanded Goodwin give them her car, a black Dodge Charger.
While witnesses say the two were cooperating, Goodwin struggled removing an anti-theft device from the car’s steering wheel and the assailants apparently grew impatient. Goodwin was shot three times and Rogers once in the back while three of their friends watched horrified from the backseat. The killers fled on foot, having taken nothing from the couple other than their lives.
Police have few leads, and family members of the cousins held a press conference in front of the club the following day to ask the public for help.
“We solve homicides based on information and that information comes from the community,” Lt. Dwane Blackman, of the Detroit Police Department homicide division, said at the gathering. “We need all the help we can get.”
“We closed the door and heard ‘pop, pop, pop, pop'”
Off Broadway East celebrates 25 years of service this year. Owners Tony Miller and Dan Smith bought the club from the original owners 15 years ago. Both were at the club Wednesday night. Nearly an hour after closing up, two security personnel came in to tell them that the parking lot was clear and the crowd, which habitually lingers out front after the club closes, had dispersed.
Miller stepped out the back door with the two security guards while Smith set the alarm.
“We closed the door and heard ‘pop, pop, pop, pop,'” Miller recalled. “I said, ‘that sounds like it’s real close.'”
One of the security guards ran down the alley in search of the sounds. On Norcross, the guard discovered a grizzly scene. Three women stood terrified over their two dead friends. On the ground outside the passenger door of their car laid Rogers.
“When the guard came back and said Brandan was on the ground, I lost it,” Miller said.
Rogers, it turns out, was not just a patron of the club. He was an employee. Rogers worked for Miller both at the club and at the dry cleaners he owns. At the cleaners, Rogers did delivery, and at the club he worked security. But he was not working this night. He was not even supposed to be there.
“He asked me if I needed him to work that night and I told him to go home and sleep cause he had an early morning at the cleaners,” said Miller, who had known him since he was 16.
Rogers could often be found around Miller’s house, doing odd jobs and just hanging out like any other member of the family.
“Brandan was a good kid,” said Miller. “He was very respectful.”
And, said Miller, he knew better.
On the side of the club that faces Norcross there is a sign that warns patrons not to park there. “There’s a huge sign right there,” said Miller. “Then customers curse out our security guys when we tell them not to park there. They say it’s public property and they can do what they want.”
Rogers knew all about this, and how he ended up there, Miller doesn’t know.
A city-wide problem
While the shootings do not appear to be a hate crime in the traditional sense, it’s impossible to know if the suspects chose the location for the carjacking with the knowledge that it was a gay nightclub or even out of the belief that customers there might be easy targets.
Anthony Winn of Strongarm Productions, who has hosted events at the club on many occasions, said he believes the crime had little to do with sexual orientation and more with location.
“It’s a bad area and it’s been like that for years,” said Winn, who was actually at the club on Wednesday evening but left before the shooting took place. “The parking is very limited and thus it forces people to park on the street. But it’s the same at the Woodward and Club Pink and several other clubs in the city.”
Indeed, many of Detroit’s most popular gay nightspots are located in high crime areas, and tragedy has struck them before.
In 2007, a security guard was shot outside of Club Innuendo in Highland Park. A year earlier, a Windsor man was shot outside of Gigi’s, located on Detroit’s west side, and rendered comatose for days. And in late 2000, two separate incidents took place within three months of each other outside of Club Gold Coast on east Seven Mile Road. In September, a man was shot walking to his car, which was parked across the street from the club. Three months later, a man was fatally shot while he drove out of the club’s parking lot.
“This is a city of Detroit issue,” said Winn. “It’s been a situation that’s been going around the city at straight clubs, gay clubs, all clubs. It’s an issue, in my opinion, of the crime element in the city. The crime in this city, as a whole, is bad.”
Winn said he is sure that folks will return to Off Broadway.
“I know that it occurred at Off Broadway, said Winn. “But in my experience, had it not been those two who were there at that spot at that time, the perpetrators would have found somebody down the road.”
If you have any information about the shooting, please call Detroit homicide at 313-596-2260 or CrimeStoppers at 800-773-2587.