Tilmon Strickland wants answers.
His daughter, Melissa Strickland, was murdered in Phoenix in March 1997. She was bludgeoned to death, and her body was dumped in broad daylight near 21st Street and Corona Avenue. She was 24 years old.
"It seems I've had to fight every step of the way just to get this far," Strickland tells New Times, "and I was so angry at Phoenix police for listing my daughter as N/H, which when I found out what it meant I could not believe."
"N/H," Strickland says, stands for "not human" -- a designation he says the PPD assigned his daughter because she was once suspected of prostitution.
"When I first contacted police, the detective must have used that word prostitute 20 times in the 15-or-so minutes he was on the phone with me," Strickland says. "It was like he was dwelling on it. She was arrested once, and that was the charge they used against her."
The charge, he says, was later dropped.
Strickland says his daughter had fallen on hard times before her murder. She and her four children were living with her mother and her mother's boyfriend, but they had a disagreement and Melissa was forced onto the streets. Her four children were dropped off at a shelter until they were taken by their other grandmother.
"My daughter started living on the streets," Strickland says. "She never called me to ask for help, and I don't know why. She knew that I would have done something, but I never knew until
after she was killed what was going on."
Strickland says he doesn't know what led to his daughter's murder, but he has some ideas.
At the time of her murder, Melissa was seeing a guy who Strickland says told his ex-wife's boyfriend that he'd murdered two women and gotten away with it.
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"Everyone I've talked to believes this guy killed her -- even his own mother said he killed her," Strickland says. "Police even caught this guy lying, and they never pressed or questioned him again so it made me feel like he was being protected somehow."
Strickland says this may be his last chance to advocate for his murdered daughter.
"I am now facing bypass surgery, and If I don't get something going once again, it may be a really long time before I can do anything else -- that is, if I survive," he says.
Anyone with any information about the murder is asked to call the Phoenix Police Department.