3 years later, DeKalb man’s unsolved killing weighs on widow, neighbors

Phyllis and Melvin Cleveland

Phyllis Cleveland hasn’t given up hope.

It’s been just over three years since her husband of 45 years was gunned down outside their DeKalb home. The case remains a mystery, but Cleveland said she still prays every day that police are able to make a break and solve the slaying.

“I wish I had some updates,” she said. “They told me it’s just a cold case. … I’m just staying on my knees about it.”

Melvin Cleveland, 74, was shot and killed in broad daylight Nov. 18, 2016 in his yard on Kings Park Way, just off Rainbow Drive outside I-285. Cleveland had gone outside to investigate a rustling; his caregiver found him in the yard clutching his chest, with blood pouring out. The killer fled the scene.

DeKalb police said Thursday there are no new developments in the case, but they are seeking the public’s help in solving the homicide.

Police have not released a possible motive for the shooting. When Cleveland was killed, investigators believe, he was talking to a man rolling a wheelbarrow across his yard at about 11:30 a.m. The wheelbarrow was left at the scene after Cleveland was shot.

Phyllis Cleveland said she gives DeKalb police a call about once a month asking for updates on the case, but to no avail.

“I will do what I can,” she said, “just to show that somebody here still cares.”

Melvin Cleveland

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

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Credit: Channel 2 Action News

A lack of physical evidence at the crime scene, coupled with a vague description of the shooter, has made it hard for investigators to follow leads, Cleveland said.

She has her own theories about what happened, based on conversations with neighbors. She was at a doctor’s appointment during the incident, but said she later found her husband’s ladders leaned against the back of the house, as if someone was preparing for a break-in.

On top of losing her husband, Cleveland said she and her neighbors have lost a sense of security — even three years after the shooting. It used to be common to see residents taking walks down the quaint street, lined with one-story brick homes and pine trees, she said. Now, everyone’s on “high alert.”

“Everybody stopped walking. … We have a new life. We have a new norm,” she said, adding that the shooter “stole from this entire neighborhood.”

Over the last three years, Cleveland installed security cameras and a fence around her home, and armed herself with a pistol.

Melvin Cleveland was a retired General Motors worker who was known in the area for mentoring kids and teaching them life skills like how to change the oil in a car. He called everyone “neighbor,” his widow said. The couple’s two children, who are in their 40s, also continue to grieve his inexplicable killing.

At the time of his death, he had recently been diagnosed with dementia and sometimes had mental “hiccups,” Phyllis Cleveland said, which is why he sometimes needed a caretaker.

“They just robbed a good man’s life,” she said. “No, it wasn’t perfect, but he still had a quality life.”

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to contact the DeKalb County Police Department at 770-724-7850 or Crime Stoppers at 404-577-TIPS (8477).

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