Police had few answers Sunday concerning the deaths of three people — including a 91-year-old man well-known for his community gardening — found Saturday by a relative in a North Philadelphia rowhouse, a few blocks west of Temple University Hospital.
Relatives identified the dead as Warren Harrison, 91, owner of the two-story house at the intersection of West Venango and 20th Streets in the city's Tioga section, Khadijah Abdullah (previously known as Astra Cottle), who also reportedly lived there, and Earl Cottle, Abdullah's brother. The deaths, discovered about 7:30 p.m. Saturday, left relatives in shock, said Chris Byard, a brother-in-law of Abdullah.
Harrison, a longtime resident, was a familiar figure in the neighborhood. He tended a nearby community garden, growing potatoes, beans, corn, and tomatoes, according to a 2010 Inquirer story, before that site was redeveloped with homes. More recently, he planted and harvested collard greens in his front yard, between a concrete retaining wall and his porch. Harrison slow-cooked the greens in a pot atop a kerosene heater, said neighbor Deanna Green. He said the secret to cooking greens was to use plenty of pork, a relative said.
"Normally, this is a very quiet neighborhood," Green said. "He is a quiet man. He does his gardening. I am shocked."
On Sunday, the yard was neatly blanketed with straw to protect the beds for winter. Harrison's older-model Cadillac was parked on 20th Street next to the house. A compact car sat to the rear in the fenced driveway, below a satellite-TV dish.
The three were pronounced dead at the scene, police said. There were no signs of forced entry. Abdullah's body was found on the second floor; the bodies of the men, in the basement.
Causes of death were still uncertain but the three were not shot, said Homicide Detective Brian Peters after meeting with relatives and as investigators moved between the house and a crime scene truck parked out front.