Last updated: over 1 year ago
Even now, no one in the Spellman family can seem to agree. Was it Dee Dee at the window or Sharon? Or was it Kimberly? With 11 kids, it can be hard keep track.
Suffice it to say, one of the Spellman children was looking out the open window of the family's apartment in the Hayes Homes public housing high-rises about 6 o'clock in the evening 40 years ago today, July 15, 1967.
Ten stories below, three days of rioting had turned Newark upside down, with tanks rumbling through the streets, checkpoints at every intersection and armed soldiers firing at any shadow they thought might turn into a sniper.
And all Eloise Spellman was trying to do was make dinner.
She was a seamstress who worked in a local sweat shop, a sweet-natured woman who made her own clothes and cooked a mean stew. And when she saw one of her children too close to the window, too close to all the danger below, she scurried over to shoo the child away.
But in leaning out to shut the window -- which opened away from the sill -- her upper torso was momentarily exposed.
From somewhere below, someone with a uniform and a gun who saw a head peaking out of that 10th-floor window, mistook a 42-year-old mother of 11 for a sniper, and opened fire.
Witnesses later testified to a grand jury the gunfire came from State Troopers and National Guardsmen stationed at the No. 6 firehouse on the other side of Springfield Avenue.
"We were firing at that building all the time," Craig Mierop, who was stationed at the firehouse, said in a recent interview.
"After this one unbelievable volley, I took the binoculars to take a closer look. It looked like something from Normandy."
Who fired the fatal bullet remains unknown. What the bullet did, according to a later autopsy report, was pierce Eloise Spellman's neck and perfectly sever her carotid artery, the main vessel between the heart and the brain.
Eloise fell back on the couch and began soaking the pillows with her blood as bullets continued to hammer the apartment.
"I just remember people yelling, 'Get down,'" said Pam Spellman, who was 8 at the time. "We were just little kids and we were so scared."
The Spellmans had no phone, so a neighbor called an ambulance. But with all the chaos, the ambulance couldn't make it in time.