Police Say Lakeland Man Was Likely Killed by Person He Knew
November 11, 1989
Clarence Thomas would give the shirt off his back to anyone who needed it. Literally.
Tyrone Williams remembers one cold winter night when he saw his younger brother take off a brand new leather jacket and hand it to a homeless man on the street.
Thomas loved that jacket — everyone loved that jacket — Williams said, but the man was cold and needed it more.
Thomas would do anything to help someone out. That’s just the type of guy he was, Williams said.
And that’s why it has been so hard for his family to come to terms with how the 27-year-old died.
Lakeland police found Thomas about 4:15 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1989, lying dead in the road in the 200 block of W. Third St. He had multiple stab wounds to his upper body, and police said Thomas was most likely killed by someone he knew.
The possible motive: robbery.
As part of a continuing series in partnership with the Lakeland Police Department, The Ledger is profiling many of the department’s 37 cold cases and unsolved homicides.
The Lakeland police homicide detectives said their hope is that with a little extra time to focus on the unsolved cases and some help from the community, they’ll be able to solve more of the cases. And that, in turn, could bring closure to many more families.
Like the families of victims in other cold cases, Thomas’ have been holding onto hope. For more than 25 years, they have waited for the day the detectives will call with an answer as to why someone killed such a well-loved man.
Thomas never married nor had any children, but he had a steady girlfriend at the time he was killed, said his mother, Helen Dickerson.
He was her second oldest son, born June 12, 1962, and her favorite child, she said.
“I tell everyone, he was the best child I got,” Dickerson said. Williams and his sister Charlotte Johnson agreed.
Williams said Thomas was the good guy of the family. He was never in trouble and always there to help anyone out. He was easygoing and calm, made friends easily, and didn’t have any known enemies.
He was likeable and a genuinely nice person, he said.
“Once in a while, you meet a cat that deserves to live forever; he was that dude,” Williams said.
Thomas was better known as “Mr. Chicken” because of his longtime job at Church’s Chicken on West Memorial Boulevard. Dressed as a chicken in a white suit with a bright yellow beak, Thomas would entertain and wave at people as they passed by the restaurant.
His family said that at the time of his death, Thomas was also working at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen.
The night before he was killed was payday.
His mother said it wasn’t until her son’s funeral that she actually realized how many lives he had touched. Dickerson said she heard stories about how Thomas helped care for people by bringing them groceries or money when they were in need. He checked on friends and family members without being asked.
“He would go out of his way to help anyone,” Williams agreed.
Dickerson said so many people came to her house after Thomas’ death that her family ended up having to console others as they mourned.
Now, 2½ decades later, Dickerson and her family are still mourning Thomas’ death.
And they’re hoping for someone with information to come forward to police.
“We still have a hole in our heart,” Dickerson said. “He was my child.”
Lakeland police Detective Brad Grice has been investigating Thomas’ case for more than a decade, and through different tips, he said, he has developed directions that might lead him to a suspect.
But Grice said he’s still missing a few key pieces of information that are necessary to move forward. Someone — even if they didn’t actually witness Thomas’ death — has to have more information about how he died.
And Grice is asking for that person to come forward.
“He didn’t deserve that,” the detective said. “He wasn’t doing anything to hurt anybody. He didn’t deserve to stabbed and left on the pavement.”
Williams said knowing the circumstances of that night should help everyone in his family rest easier.
He said they don’t have hate and don’t want revenge, but they want justice for Thomas’ death. And they want closure to move on without wondering, he said.
“He was my baby brother,” Williams said. “Bring us out of pain.”
Stephanie Allen can be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7550.