Police Charge Teenager in 78-Year-Old Artist’s Beating Death

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Huntsville Police are forced to add another homicide to their list of investigations this year.  Police charged Ervin Akeem Tolbert, 19, with capital murder in the death of 78-year-old Wade Wharton.

Tolbert is being held without bond.


Ervin Akeem Tolbert, 19 (Photo: Huntsville Police Dept.)

The arrest happened Wednesday morning after officers found a man’s body outside a home on Nassau Drive.

The victim, Wharton,  is four times Tolbert’s age.  The two were neighbors.

Investigators haven’t said yet how Wharton died, but neighbors understand he was beaten to death.

One neighbor talked with WHNT News 19, but did not want his face shown on camera.

“I didn’t really see anything. I heard some things going on,” said the Neighbor.

The neighbor woke up around 4:00 a.m. Wednesday and immediately knew something wasn’t right.

“I said this sounds like a thud, beating or something. It sounded like someone beating on something solid,” added the neighbor.

Investigators with the Huntsville Police Department confirmed officers found a body outside the home.

‘Usually, nothing goes on out here. This is a pretty quiet neighborhood,” the person added.

A source told WHNT News 19 Wharton’s body was in a car port.

“I didn’t know what happened. I really didn’t know. I was just confused,” the neighbor said.

Officers took Tolbert into custody.  Many in the community are asking why Wharton was killed.

“He was a nice man. He kind of stayed to himself,” the neighbor said. “He really didn’t talk to many people.”

Tolbert is being held without bond.

Wharton was an artist. Many in the community called him a creative genius.  Dozens of his works are on display at the Huntsville Botanical Garden.

“It is a sad day.  It is a sad day at the garden,” said Huntsville Botanical Garden President/CEO Paula Steigerwald.

Steigerwald knew Wharton quite well.

“The garden’s relationship with Wharton started when the garden started,” added Steigerwald.  That was 25 years ago.

“He was part of the Fern Society, an early volunteer, contributed his hands, heart and idea,” added Steigerwald.

David Whitaker saw some of Wharton’s ideas come to life. He lived near Wharton 15 years.

“Every piece in that yard had a story behind it. He could tell you why he made it and everything about it,” said Whitaker.

Whitaker considered his 76-year-old neighbor an easy-going guy.

He has no idea why anyone would hurt the man.

“It’s one of those inexplicable things,” said Whitaker.  “You just can’t find a reason.”

Wharton’s things are scattered around the Huntsville Botanical Garden.  Some of his work includes a bottle tree, red man and dragonfly.

“He’d be able to see it a different way. He’s put personality and character to it and create these crazy things like a fly being swatted by a fly swatter,” added Steigerwald.

Steigerwald said the Garden has 33 of Wharton’s pieces, but wouldn’t be surprised if Wharton had been able to sneak in a few more pieces without her knowing it.


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