Five years later, unsolved Macon murder still brings pain

alopez@macon.comFebruary 20, 2014 

Five years ago, 27-year-old Sophia LaTessa Denmark was found dead in a house she shared with roommates in Macon’s Pleasant Hill neighborhood. She was strangled to death.

Now, her family is finally ready to talk about her death.

“Some of the time I break down like it just happened,” said Ophelia Austin, Sophia’s grandmother. The pain doesn’t ever get old and never goes away, she said.

Denmark’s mother, father, sister, aunts, cousins and grandmother gathered Wednesday at a family member’s home in Macon to remember her. They recalled her as a bright and happy woman who had no known enemies. They also criticized local law enforcement officials for a homicide investigation they say has gone cold.

On Feb. 21, 2009, Sophia was found face down inside her bedroom at 2127 Walnut St. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

A man who was seen entering the house before Sophia was found had confessed to killing her, but DNA recovered from under her fingernails wasn’t a match. Sophia’s killer has never been found.

“I don’t see why the case hasn’t been solved,” said her father, Freddie Denmark.

Her mother, Angela Young lamented, “We haven’t seen any answers.”

Life of the party

Photos of Sophia decorated her aunt’s house where her family gathered Wednesday night. The pictures captured her modelesque frame, smooth brown skin and distinct facial features -- long eyelashes, sculpted eyebrows, bright eyes and a wide smile.

“She loved to model, and she loved to dance,” Austin said.

Austin’s oldest granddaughter, Sophia also was her parents’ oldest child. Her two brothers and a sister were devastated when she died, Young said.

“When she was around, she would brighten my day and make me laugh,” said 28-year-old Shannon Hill, her younger sister. “She was the life of the party, so there was never a dull moment with her.”

Sophia also spent time baby-sitting her cousin Alexis Hill, who is now 19. She would make toaster strudels for her but never put them on a plate because she didn’t want to wash dishes, Hill remembered, laughing.

On the first anniversary of her death, Hill gave birth to a son.

“He’s just like her,” Hill said, “intelligent, funny, outgoing.”

Before her death, Sophia had talked about getting a GED and continuing her education. After a failed marriage, she was happy to be on her own, Austin said.

Austin, who raised Sophia, became worried after finding out where she was living on Walnut Street.

“I went to visit her and beg her to come live with me,” she said.

“That area wasn’t the safest,” Freddie Denmark said.

After Sophia died, her family posted fliers in Pleasant Hill asking for help with the case. They offered a $3,000 reward for information leading to Sophia’s killer.

“Nobody is coming forward.” Denmark said.

Denmark actually talked to the man initially charged with his daughter’s death, Gregory Lamont Allen, after he was convicted of moving her body and released on probation.

Allen had given the name of another man to investigators as a possible suspect, Freddie Denmark said, but nothing ever came of that tip.

A wound that doesn’t heal

Felicia Mikell, one of Sophia’s aunts, thinks the lack of justice in her niece’s case has something to due with the neighborhood where she was found.

“We went through different detectives, and there just wasn’t a lot put into trying to catch the person who did this,” Mikell said. “I think if you’re from a certain class, it’s not going to be a priority for the community or for the sheriff or for whoever is investigating the case.”

Initially under Macon Police Department jurisdiction, Sophia’s case now has Bibb County Sheriff’s Office investigators assigned to it. The police department folded into the sheriff’s office last month.

Sheriff’s Office officials were not immediately available for comment late Thursday, but spokesman Lt. Sean DeFoe has been in touch with the family over the past several weeks, Austin said.

Part of the purpose of Wednesday’s gathering was for family to share their story in the hopes that someone with information might come forward.

“Anybody that takes a life deserves to be punished,” Freddie Denmark said.

“I only had one big sister,” Shannon Hill said, crying. “I can’t get her back. It’s hard.”

Austin, Sophia’s grandmother, wrote a letter to her this week and shared it with the rest of the family.

“We know you cannot speak for yourself but we are your voice,” wrote Austin, who vowed to keep searching for her granddaughter’s killer.

She recalled one of Sophia’s favorite sayings, for when she encountered something wicked.

“That ain’t nothing but the devil,” Sophia used to say.

“Whoever took your life ain’t nothing but the devil,” Austin said.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call investigators at 478-751-7500, or they can call Macon Regional CrimeStoppers at 877-68-CRIME.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 744-4382.

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