May 21, 2018 | By Jennifer Graham
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class. The student credited above wrote this story as a class project.
He didn’t deserve to die like that.
Willie Coffee Jr., also known as “Little Willie,” says his father was on the right track and trying to change his life. He was fighting the vicious cycle of addiction. Then someone came along and took Willie Coffee Sr.’s life.
Coffee Jr. believes his dad was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“It’s pain I have to carry around in my heart forever,” Coffee said.
Without a murder suspect, the 45-year-old has no idea what to do about his father’s murder or how to direct his pain and sadness.
All he can do is wait for the day someone will speak up and say something. He hopes with sharing his father’s story, that may finally happen.
The elder Coffee’s story ended when he was only 43. It was Aug. 25, 1994, and he drove to his job to pick up his paycheck in a minivan owned by his girlfriend’s mother.
“Willie never hurt nobody and he deserves justice,” said Rosemary Boyd, his girlfriend of 25 years.
After picking up his paycheck, he went to visit a family member at a house located on the 2000 block of North Market Street in Jacksonville.
But when the elder Coffee left the van and began to walk up the steps to the two-story house, he was shot in the chest with a small caliber firearm and fell to floor of the porch.
Police, who arrived at approximately 4 p.m., found Coffee lying on his back dead on the front porch of the Market Street house.
According to Richelle Starling, a Logistical Technical Service Officer for JSO, law enforcement did locate someone who saw the murder in 1997. But the family of the witness told JSO he had too many medical issues and could no longer help them.
The case went cold.
It was a sad ending for a life that began with so much promise.
The elder Coffee was born in 1951, but his mother, Catherine, gave both him and his younger brother up for adoption in 1958. Willie was just 7 years old. She was a maid with a weekly income of $25 per week. During that time it was tough to get assistance from the state to help her care for her children.
Catherine’s aunt and uncle, Mary and Tal Coffee, were unable to have their own children and agreed to adopt the brothers, although Catherine remained in their lives.
Catherine’s sister, Maple Bronner, was around for most of the elder Coffee’s childhood and said that the adoptive parents provided well for the brothers.
The family went to church and the parents were careful to protect their two new sons from any danger. According to Bronner, they lived a highly sheltered life.
Coffee did exceptionally well in school. He had a special knack for drawing, especially complex architectural designs.
“He was very studious,” Bronner said. He enjoyed school and truly applied himself. He had good grades and never got into any trouble.
Coffee graduated from Eugene Butler High School in Jacksonville, present day Eugene Butler Middle School. After graduation, he attended Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, and later transferred to what is now Florida State College at Jacksonville. He obtained a Technical Engineering Associate of Science degree.
But several years later, according to Maple, the elder Coffee became addicted to drugs.
“I couldn’t believe what people were saying,” said Bronner.
His girlfriend gave birth to their first child, Tiffany, in 1972 and Willie Jr. followed in 1973.
His son, just 21 when Coffee was murdered, certainly remembers his father’s work ethics.
“I would say he worked all the time,” Coffee Jr. said.
His father worked 12-hour-days, sometimes longer, for the City of Jacksonville as a technical engineer at the Buckman Wastewater Treatment Facility off Talleyrand Avenue.
Because the elder Coffee had a good relationship with his supervisor, he was able to ask for help with his addiction. He went to rehab twice so he could keep his job, according to Maple.
He had just returned from the second rehab when he was murdered.
Willie Coffee thinks of his father every time he eats french fries or peanuts, his father’s favorite snacks. Every football season the memories of shared games are relived, with one reminder, they will never watch another game again, together.
His biggest regret is what he never got to tell his father one more time.
“I just wish I could have told him I loved him.”
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