Julie Love case baffled Atlanta police for a year

On Jan. 25, 2011, Emmanuel Fitzgerald Hammon was executed. Hammond was given a lethal injection for the murder of Julie Love. Love disappeared in 1988, sparking a months-long hunt for her. Hammond grabbed Love off a Buckhead street, shot her and dumped her body in a vacant lot. Love, 27, was a former gymnastics star and fitness teacher. Her disappearance made national news and drew immense political pressure.

The pressure was enormous on the Atlanta Police Department investigator assigned to Julie Love’s 1988 disappearance.

Her family and friends kept her case in the news  with rallies, billboards, media interviews and fliers that were posted all over Atlanta, asking, “Have you seen Julie Love?”

A reward offered by her family brought in hundreds and hundreds of tips, including many from psychics. Yet it was only when a frightened woman came forward 13 months after Love vanished that Atlanta police got the break they needed.

Now almost 23 years later, Emmanuel Fitzgerald Hammond, 49, is set to die by lethal injection Tuesday at 7 p.m. for Love's murder. [Updated: Hammond was executed Jan. 25, 2011.]

Hammond was convicted of grabbing Love off a Buckhead street, shooting her, and then dumping her body in a vacant lot in a northwest Atlanta neighborhood. She lay hidden there for more than a year until Hammond’s girlfriend, afraid that she would be next, told police where to find Love's body.

Retired detective Claude Porter said without that break, the 27-year-old fitness teacher might never have been found.

“After 13 months, we were down to going over the same old tracks,” said Porter, who was investigating the case as a missing person. “There was a lot of pressure on the investigation."

The Love case overshadowed all other missing persons cases at the time, said Porter, who retired in 1998 after 27 ½ years on the force.

Porter said he had to track down supposed sightings of Love from as far away as California and Canada. Once he was dispatched to Gwinnett County with only the vague information that a psychic claimed Love could be found in a place with “a lot of pine trees.”

Julie Love was last seen July 11, 1988. Her car, out of gas, was found three days later on Dover Road. Her body was found in August 1989.

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

Love was an attractive former high school cheerleader and gymnastics star who moved to Atlanta with a University of Texas degree in physical education to run her own child fitness business. She was engaged to her longtime boyfriend, Mark Kaplan,  founder of Gorin’s Homemade Ice Cream.

She was on her way home from a business meeting the night of July 11, 1988, when she ran out of gas in her 1983 red Mustang convertible, and started walking. Since the car was about halfway between Kaplan's house and the nearest gas station, police assumed she had set out for one of those two places. But no one reported seeing her.

Porter said investigators always suspected that Love was dead.

“Julie Love was different. There was no reason [for her to willingly disappear],” Porter said in an interview last week with the AJC.

Her disappearances frightened Buckhead residents and drew national attention.

“It was political,” Porter said. “The pressure was so hard on me. I had to make sure each day to make a list and go by that list whether it produced anything or not.”

Meanwhile, other missing persons cases had to be worked in between tracking down tips about Love.

Then on July 28, 1989, Janice Weldon reached out to Fulton County police. Weldon said Hammond had showed her where he left Love’s body, in an illegal dump on Grove Park Place.

Hammond was in jail on an unrelated armed robbery charge. Weldon told police Hammond allegedly already had offered a cellmate at the Fulton County Jail $20,000, a car and a job if he would kill Weldon because "she knew too much."

EMMANUEL FITZGERALD HAMMOND: Hammond was convicted of the kidnapping, robbery, rape and murder of Julie Love in July 1988. Love was beaten with a shotgun, raped and then shot in a wooded location. Hammond admitted to then-girlfriend Janice Weldon that he "blew the side of [Love's] face off." Hammond later offered a fellow inmate $20,000 to kill Weldon, who received immunity for testifying against Hammond and his accomplice, Maurice Porter. Hammond was executed in January 2011. -- Some information from murderpedia.org

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That's when Weldon decided it was time to come forward. She told investigators that shortly after 9:30 p.m., Hammond, Weldon and 20-year-old Maurice Porter, a cousin of Hammond, were driving when they saw Love walking along Dover Road.

They asked if she needed a ride. Love said no and pointed to a house and said that she lived there and began walking up the driveway. But Hammond saw her turn back after the three had driven away, so they went back and asked her again if she needed a ride.

Love said she didn’t and that was when Hammond jumped out, grabbed her, hit her with a sawed-off shotgun and threw her into the car.

First they they tried to get money out of an ATM using her card, making  Hammond "madder and madder" when it wouldn't work; he wanted money to buy drugs.

Then Maurice Porter raped Love.

Weldon demanded to be taken home when Hammond hit Love, and it was after that, Weldon said, that Hammond shot Love in the face with the shotgun.

More than a year later, Weldon led police to an illegal dump on Grove Park Place, off Johnson Road in northwest Atlanta, and there police officers and cadets found Love’s remains hidden among the weeds and trash.

Hammond was convicted in an 11-day trial in 1990.

Weldon was given immunity and not prosecuted in Love’s case.

Maurice Porter avoided a death penalty trial by pleading guilty to murder, rape and armed robbery. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in prison, where he remains.

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