Four Years Ago, a Young Black Woman Vanished From New York. What Happened to Stevie Bates?

May 03 2016

Four Years Ago, a Young Black Woman Vanished From New York. What Happened to Stevie Bates?

May 3rd, 2016

Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, early on the morning of Saturday, April 28, 2012. Nineteen-year-old Stevie Bates is captured on CCTV.

Stevie was returning to New York from Arkansas after abandoning a cross-country trip with some friends. On the course of her journey, she had lost her phone. So she used a fellow passenger’s cell to call her mother from the Philadelphia Port Authority at 7:52 pm on the evening before the New York CCTV footage.

The last time Vivian Jones spoke to her daughter, Stevie said she was headed to Brooklyn to pick up her belongings from her ex-boyfriend, Brandon. Afterwards, she would come straight home to Yonkers.

On the security footage, Stevie’s blonde dreads are unmistakable, even in grainy black and white, as the young black woman rides up the escalator (appearing at 1:10 on the clip below). She steps off to her left towards the next escalator and peers up it. Then she turns, looks confused for a second, finds her bearings, and walks off screen.

Stevie Bates has never been heard from again. Even under the constant surveillance of New York City, a person can still disappear without a trace.

***

Stevie Bates had been a successful high-school student in Yonkers, graduating in 2010. She turned down a full scholarship to the University of Arizona, opting to attend Hunter College the next year instead, so she could be closer to home.

She had lost two close friends—one to a drug overdose, one to suicide—in the previous months and, according to her mother, had been suffering from depression.

But she started at Hunter College in September 2011, and took on a project for a freshman year Political Science class. As part of that project, she began attending the Occupy Wall Street protests that were rapidly developing down at Zuccotti Park.

Immediately, Stevie was moved by the energy of what she saw. Before long, she was living at the encampment and had emerged from her depression as a fully-fledged activist.

Occupy Wall Street was a wake-up call and point of focus for many aimless young adults. Inspired by the Tahrir Square revolutionaries in Egypt, American activists started converging on Wall Street, which they saw as the epicenter of crony capitalism. Despite early media dismissals, thousands of young protesters had soon erected a tent city, a library, a kitchen and a medical facility. America’s mini-revolution was under way.

This strange new scene drew a diverse crowd: Nobel laureates, rap superstars, journalists, anarchists, young liberals. Ex-mayor Rudy Giuliani wrote the protesters off, asking why they didn’t “occupy a job.” Police commissioner Ray Kelly spoke of them as if they were lazy hippies—but still cracked down on them as if they were a threat to national security. Amid this passion and conflict, Stevie Bates would go on to become something of an icon among her fellow young revolutionaries.

***

Meanwhile, I was getting to know Brandon Klosterman.

In late 2011, I was a patient at the Bellevue methadone clinic in Manhattan, at the tail-end of a four-year heroin addiction.

Brandon had also been addicted to heroin, and was now another Bellevue methadone patient. He was living in a Brooklyn squat. I got to know his face starting in the summer of 2011, when he was 28, and in the months that followed we shared moments of small talk in the long lines of clients waiting to get dosed.

I also knew him for his reputation for stealing and fighting, for being a little bit crazier and less pleasant than the rest of us.

A couple of months in, he began showing up at the clinic with his new girlfriend—a beautiful, intelligent young woman—which brought her into my life, too. It was Stevie Bates.

As far as I was concerned, this made for more interesting conversation in the morning. Methadone conversations are predictable: Who has sticks (Xanax)? Who has clean piss? Who’s got the good dope these days?

Now, suddenly, we were talking about all sorts of other shit. “Have you been down to the camp?” Stevie would say. “It’s amazing! Am I crazy, or are the cops afraid of us for once?”

This piqued my interest. On my way home from Bellevue one day, I saw a guy handing out copies of The Occupied Wall Street Journal to Dominican and Ecuadorian families. After an exchange of phone numbers and email addresses I began enthusiastically attending meetings, although I was working a job at the time and cautiously stayed away from the cauldron of Zuccotti itself.

In fact, many of my fellow methadone patients and continuing heroin users gravitated towards Occupy. Fox News and the New York Post loved presenting all the movement’s activists as junkies, which was bullshit, but some of us were. It was a channel for our anger, our sense of injustice. A whole bunch of my Bellevue comrades moved down into Tent City.

***

Two iconic photos remain of Stevie Bates beyond the blurry images taken at Port Authority, both Occupy-related. Photographer Andre Malerba took a black-and-white shot of Stevie yelling at a police officer who had just dropped a barricade on her foot.

And on the night of November 16, when the cops cleared Zuccotti, a photographer with the Wall Street Journal snapped a clearly-distressed Stevie talking on her cell phone during the aftermath:

The NYPD mobilized in the early hours of November 15 to clear Zuccotti Park of Occupy Wall Street protestors. The Department of Sanitation removed all of the tents, tarps, personal belongings, and debris in trucks, and the NYPD eventually arrested about 70 protestors who refused to evacuate. Here, a protestor named Stevie calls her mom on a journalist's phone after being forcibly ejected from the park. CREDIT: Daniella Zalcman for The Wall Street Journal

A journalist from the paper also spoke with her:

Police and sanitation workers moved through and swept away tents, piling them in the corner of the park. A large group of protesters remained seated with their arms linked together near the encampment’s kitchen. Stevie Bates, an 18-year-old protester from the Bronx, said she saw at least six people with U-shaped locks around their necks.

Ms. Bates, who said she was among those seated near the kitchen, described the protesters as peaceful and said she had offered some of the police officers cookies. She said an officer hit her with a club but she was not injured.

“They pushed me out of the park the whole way. All of my stuff is gone,” Ms. Bates said. “They didn’t give us any time…They trampled on us, completely trampled us.”

***

On a spring day, it’s a nice walk downtown along Third Ave. from the Bellevue Hospital to Union Square. Some methadone clients spend afternoons in the park after getting dosed and Brandon was one of them. Stevie would hang out at Union Square with Brandon and his friends.

Stevie had no problems with drugs, according her parents and the friends who knew her best. She wasn’t straight edge, but neither did any possible drug use, legal or illegal, figure prominently in her life. Right through into April 2012, Stevie spent a lot of time with people who, like Brandon, were addicted to drugs—but she wasn’t.

On days when I wasn’t working, I would often end up Union Square Park, too. Stevie seemed perfectly at ease with the rest of us, despite her young age and non-drug-using status. She was friendly, funny and political.

I’m writing about Union Square because it’s the last place I ever spoke with Stevie Bates. It was a cool evening in March 2012. She was sitting on a bench with Brandon, and noticed me walking around the park before I noticed her. I remember our conversation pretty clearly.

“What’s up, Pat?”

“Hey Stevie, what have you been up to?”

“Just school, man. Also meetings!”

“Still doing Occupy?”

“Fuck yeah, man!”

We talked about Occupy and gossiped about the clinic. I told her about my new job, flyering for a Brooklyn gym; it was decent money. She asked me for my boss’s number, so that Brandon could try to get the same job.

“I don’t have it on me,” I lied. “I’ll give it to you when I see you at the clinic, Brandon.”

I lied because I strongly suspected that Brandon would screw me over if I was coerced into recommending him to my new boss.

A week later I heard through the grapevine that Stevie and Brandon had broken up.

***

A cold March turned through April into a hot May. Things were much better in my life. But I had no idea that Stevie was already missing.

The police did know. But they didn’t seem concerned. The investigation went like this.

On April 29, 2012—the day after Stevie was caught on CCTV at Port Authority—her mother, Vivian Jones, called the Yonkers Police Department to report her daughter missing.

The cops said that because Stevie was an adult, she could not be reported missing so early—and there is a protocol in place that adults cannot be reported missing until 72 hours have elapsed. However, after that 72-hour period came a damning series of denials by the NYPD—a refusal to even acknowledge that yet another young black woman had gone missing in New York. As the police stalled, crucial hours became days and then weeks. According to Stevie’s mother, the cops constantly passed the buck to avoid having to do anything.

“My daughter’s last known and documented address was in Brooklyn with her older sister, Sherina Bates,” Vivian Jones states on her website. She continues:

“Since I myself became a new resident of Yonkers in April of 2012, NYPD would not take the missing persons report because:
1.NYPD said she was 19 and could go as she pleased, (regardless of the fact that I told them my daughter Stevie never ever goes without calling me). They also said that since I didn’t have any proof that she even made it to NYC (because when I last spoke with her she was at a layover stop in PA), that I should contact NYC Port Authority.

2.NYC Port Authority redirected me to PA Port Authority.

3.PA Port Authority redirected me to Arkansas where she first boarded the greyhound bus to NYC, (even though I told them I spoke with her while she was in PA at the layover).

4.Arkansas verified that she boarded the bus and redirected me back to PA Port Authority.

5.PA Port Authority redirected me the PA Police Department.

6.The PA Police Department verified via video surveillance that Stevie re-boarded the bus in PA heading to NYC and, they redirected me back to NY Port Authority.

7.NYC Port Authority then redirected me back to NYPD.

8.NYPD then redirected me to Yonkers, because I told them I had just become a Yonkers resident (even though I told them Stevie lived in NYC with her sister).

By this time I was frantic and frustrated with the run around I was receiving, so I finally filed the Missing Persons Report in Yonkers. Two weeks later when Yonkers finally got around to going down to NYC to check the video footage, we verified that she did make it into NYC. I then made several attempts via phone calls to precincts and walk-ins to precincts, to get the case transferred to NYC. NYC said they couldn’t duplicate the Missing Persons Report and that Yonkers had to follow up on the case. Due to Yonkers limited resources and a lack of effort, many crucial opportunities were missed (like crucial video surveillance up and down 8th Ave and the subway stations) which could have helped us track her steps and follow any leads that may have shed light on what happened to her and where she went after leaving Port Authority on 4/28/12.”

***

Vivian told me she had been aware that Brandon Klosterman was troubled, but only learned of the extent of his issues after her daughter vanished.

Her own search was as vigorous as that of any parent of a missing child. She had the staff at Bellevue place posters all over the facility. She began crowd-sourcing money to hire a private investigator, so that at least one cop would be doing their job.

As I left work at my new job in the Meatpacking District in mid-May, I saw one of the missing-person posters and learned of Stevie’s disappearance. I immediately called the number displayed to see if anything I knew could be useful.

Later that day, I met with Vivian and her husband, Stevie’s stepfather, Darryl Jones. They told me that Vivian had recently run into Brandon while searching for Stevie at Union Square. Brandon had flatly denied knowing where Stevie was, or that he had any idea that Stevie had intended to visit him on April 28. Vivian was immediately suspicious.

I was able to get the support of many other methadone patients who had known Stevie and wanted to help Vivian find her daughter. We all searched and asked around. We shared information: Stevie was 5’6” and weighed about 115 pounds. By the end of May 2012 it seemed that everyone was helping—except the NYPD.

Finally, the police decided to question Brandon. He was evasive during interrogation, Vivian was later told by the cops, but they were able to determine that he had deleted all of his Facebook messages to Stevie.

After the brief interview, the police were satisfied enough to state: “Brandon Klosterman is not a person of interest in this case.”

OH-Brown-24192985-BRANDON-KLOSTERMAN

Brandon Klosterman

Over the next few months, the trail went cold. Brandon Klosterman was no longer seen at his usual haunts in New York. Vivian Jones and her husband worked hard to find any lead on their daughter. Newspapers covered the incident, but with only a passing interest. Right-wing blogs tried to suggest that Occupy activists had murdered her.

On May 26, 2012 a videographer uploaded a short video of a subway performer. Stevie is in the background, sitting next to an unidentified white male—although he does seem to closely resemble Brandon Klosterman.

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 1.19.39 PM

A screenshot from the video, showing Stevie Bates and an unidentified male sitting next to her.

The guy who filmed the video believes that it was shot on April 11, 2012. The clip has been viewed over 8,000 times on YouTube.

***

On March 23, 2013 the badly decomposed skeleton of a young African American woman was found, locked up in a charred suitcase in a previously burned-out building in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.

A police reconstruction of the face bore chilling similarities to Stevie. The estimated date of her death was also close to the date of Stevie’s disappearance. The abandoned apartment building where the body was discovered wasn’t far from Brandon’s Brooklyn squat, where Stevie had told her mom she was headed.

When I saw a Facebook post about this, I called the cops to ask if it could be Stevie. The detective told me to hold. Five minutes later, he was back on the line. The body was not Stevie’s but that of a missing Kansas woman.

It was a tragedy, just not Stevie’s tragedy. Another victim in the epidemic of people who are black and missing. Black people comprise about 13 percent of the US population, but an estimated 33 percent of missing people. Of course, their disappearances draw less media coverage than those of their white counterparts.

Stevie was a black teenaged girl who was involved with a left-wing protest movement and associated with some drug users. Should we be surprised that the investigation into her disappearance went nowhere?

***

In the four years since Stevie vanished, I have gotten off methadone and lost touch with most of my friends from the clinic. I still hear rumors—rumors of arguments; of murder; of an overdose; of the concealment of her body; of suicide. But there is no proof and no body, so it amounts to nothing more than speculation, and we shouldn’t make accusations.

Yet two perfectly legitimate, vital, unanswered questions remained: Did Stevie Bates ever make it to Brooklyn, as she told her mother she intended? And where was Brandon Klosterman?

I never lost interest in Stevie, who would now be 23. Into 2014 (and beyond), I spent hours searching the internet for clues.

Eventually, I found Brandon Klosterman. On September 6, 2013, it turned out, he was arrested in Montgomery County, Ohio on a warrant for criminal trespassing and possession. I called the sheriff’s office. They confirmed that he was released and have no idea where he went subsequently.

Vivian Jones, who cooperated with The Influence for this article but did not wish to be quoted directly, will never give up searching for her daughter. She is currently also involved in providing support for families of other missing children.

For many reasons, none of us should give up either.


Patrick Hilsman is an associate editor of The Influence. You can follow him on Twitter: @PatrickHilsman.

  • Jiva Das

    I’m a little disappointed by this article. I’ve come to expect a higher standard of journalism from The Influence. The articles here are usually firmly grounded in evidence and correct about data and information. While I understand this article is part human interest and was written to elicit some emotion from its readers, the continuous jabs at the boyfriend, Brandon Klosterman, seem to be more grounded in sensationalism. Without any justification the author will leave most readers suspicious of Brandon Klosterman. This is without any evidence this man should be a suspect other than the fact he was Stevie’s boyfriend and in the mind of many who read this, a drug user.

    • Lindsay O’Neill

      In the case of a missing person – ANY news is good news. For the sake of my dear friend, and Stevie’s sister, I hope this is article helps bring closure, justice, and peace.

    • Jamie B

      Sure, why be suspicious of someone who has denied knowing the victim and deleted messages to attempt to hide a previous relationship? Clearly the writer is unfairly insinuating Brandon might know more than he lets on…. Totally unfair! Ummm….. NOT!

    • kmj531

      There may be no direct evidence linking Klosterman, but had the police done their job, he should have been the looked at more closely. Statistically, a woman is most likely to be killed by a (ex)spouse or lover, that i just a fact. And while that does not make it true in this case, it sure makes his actions suspisious. According to the US Department of Justice: Females made up 70% of victims killed by an intimate partner in 2007, a proportion that has changed very little since 1993. Black females were four times more likely than white females to be murdered by a boyfriend or girlfriend. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/fvv.pdf I hope there Stevie is found so her family can have peace some day. I can not imagine the pain of not knowing where she is.

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  • Cedric Bridgewater

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/251304788310449/
    a group for info on stevie started years ago

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  • Jacinda S. Godwin

    Find Stevie!! i hear hell is hot Brandon!! piece of dog shit