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Lattie McGee and Cornelius Abraham

Good Can Come From Evil

By Janet Martin

The story of Lattie McGee and Cornelius Abraham is one of almost unbelievable abuse and cruelty, and yet it is also one of courage and hope.

On August 14, 1987, in a hot South Side Chicago apartment, police and paramedics found the tortured body of four-year-old Lattie McGee. Over the summer, when many inner-city children were outside enjoying splashing in the flow of spraying water hydrants, little Lattie was being systematically tortured by his mother and her boyfriend.

The then 28-year-old Alicia Abraham and her 40-year old boyfriend, Johnny Campbell, spent the summer beating the small boy with their fists, burning him with cigarettes and an iron, dunking his small legs into boiling water, depriving him of food and water, sticking him repeatedly with sewing needles and then wrapping a clothing line around his tiny raw ankles and hanging him upside down in the closet for the night. To muffle the innocent boy's cries, the couple would sometimes stuff a rag in his mouth.

Campbell did not like the 4-year-olds "effeminate" voice so to toughen the young boy he would starve him then beat him if he complained. On the hot August night, Campbell and Alicia stuffed a rag into Lettie's mouth, potato peels were placed on his eyes, his hands were bound, and he was hung by his feet in the closet. His complaints of having problems swallowing and that he was in pain from the broken collarbone and broken pelvis, were ignored.

Flesh Ripped Away

The next morning Alicia Abraham seemed more concerned with watching TV then getting Lattie down from the closet. It would not have mattered because he died sometime during the night. There was no more pleasure for her and her boyfriend to get from abusing this innocent child.

Pathologist said Lattie died of a severe blow to the head that slowly killed him, but they added, "His emaciated body, scarred from head to foot, was so infected from untreated wounds that he probably would have died a short time later." When the paramedics and police lifted the boy's shirt, they uncovered a chest of raw skin, his flesh ripped away from repeated abuse.

Not the Only Victim

There was another child in the home, six-year-old Cornelius Abraham, Lattie's brother. With courage, the young boy testified against the Alicia and Campbell. He recounted all the episodes of abuse that he and Lattie suffered.

For their crimes, Johnny Campbell and Alicia Abraham were both sentenced to life in prison.

Remarkably, two years earlier in 1985, Alicia Abraham was being counseled for neglecting her children by state investigators, who incredibly concluded the situation had improved.

Out of Despair, Hope

Cornelius, who showed much courage, was eventually sent to live with his biological father. Sadly, his father also neglected him, and at age 12, he was homeless and on his own for three months. After five more tumultuous years, Cornelius was placed with a pair of loving foster parents. In time, Cornelius grew close to them and today calls them "Mom and Dad."

After graduating from high school, he went on to college. In 1999, the YMCA Network for Counseling and Youth Development of Greater Chicagoland presented Cornelius with the first ever, Cornelius S. Abraham Award, designed to give hope to children who have suffered from abuse.

As summer ends, I cannot help to think of Lettie, who would be 20 years old now. Since I first read the Abraham brothers' story of the monstrous cruelty at the hands of their caregivers, I think of Lettie at summer's end. I will never understand what makes people, such as Alicia and Campbell, do the horrific cruel acts to small children, and in a way, I hope I never do understand it. Then I refocus and think of Cornelius -- so brave, so determined to beat the odds -- and I send a silent wish to him: that his life is now one of peace and happiness.

Janet Martin, the writer of this article, is a frequent visitor to the About Crime & Punishment site, and lives in the Chicago area.

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