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.

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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.

16 comments

  • Evelyn McGregor

    I lived down the street from Mr. Wharton for many years. He was a wonderful man; always willing to share a cutting of one of his plants and was happy to let the neighborhood children go into his backyard to see the many animals he had. I no longer live on Nassau Dr, but i do know he will be missed by his neighbors.

  • Lissa Jo Ruggles

    I am personally touched and very saddened by this awesome mans tragic death. He was one of the sweetest men I have ever had the priveledge to know. The Huntsville community has lost a real treasure. Rest in Peace my friend…sad to lose you too soon.

  • Jane smith

    I can’t believe it! Mr. Wharton never bothered anyone. That kid deserves what he gets. I hope he goes through what he put Mr. Wharton through! You will always be remembered wade! Rest in what peice you have left!

  • Lisa

    Madison Girl! – I have read the article three times now and see no mention of a thug nor do I see any racist comments.

  • Sue

    This is so SAD indeed! Brutal murder by 19 yr old? How hard do you think you have to hit a 78 yr old man- and how many times before you kill him? II did not know Mr. Wharton but he sounds from comments like a very talented and very nice man whom people liked. Motive was what? maybe robbery of money or stuff in his yard? Maybe someone was hurting his pets. He must have heard something and obviously if the person was his neighbor he could identify him. I am guessing Mr. Wharton would have not called the police on him for whatever he was doing if he would have just left. No one wants to be enemies with their neighbors. What a SORRY COWARD he is to beat Mr. Wharton!!!! He deserves the Death Penalty!

  • Sue

    Rest in peace Mr. Wharton. My prayers go out to his family and friends. I am sure you will be missed by everyone who knew you!

  • J.K. Hennessey

    I always admired Wharton’s artistic talent.He created sculptures and artwork from found objects. It was something that I always wanted to learn about. I am deeply saddened that he was so brutally taken from our community before his time by senseless violence. I hope justice is served.

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