He was just 9-years old when his mother went missing in April 1969. Two months later, long after his grandmother reported her daughter missing, her body was found in Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park.
David Parker, 56, spoke exclusively with the AFRO about how his mother’s unsolved death affected his upbringing and exactly who Shirley Parker was.
On June 2, 1969, a crew was dispatched to the Druid Hill Park Reservoir to replace burned out lights on the fountain in the middle of the lake. While replacing the lights, one of the crew members climbed the ladder into the fountain, where he discovered the body of a badly decomposed woman.
She was face down in about two feet of water. The woman was fully clothed in brown slacks, a yellow, orange, and white blouse, and brown boots. The woman was soon identified as Shirley Lee Parker, 33, a twice divorced mother of two boys.
Parker was last seen on April 23 after she went out with some friends. Later that night she discovered, her boyfriend at the time, Arno West, had another girlfriend and he had spent Parker’s paycheck to buy the other woman a pantsuit.
According to neighbors, Parker and West could be heard having a “heated argument” on the front steps of his mother’s home on Gwynns Falls Parkway. Parker had stormed there after she learned about the other woman. West told police he and Parker took a drive to “cool off.”
The couple went to another bar for more drinks and then to Druid Hill Park. She requested he stop the car so she could get out and walk around the park. West told police he became worried and began following Parker when he saw her climbing over the 15 foot gate to the lake.
After he handed her purse, and persuaded her to not swim in the lake, West told police that he drove her home that night. Parker’s mother states she never came home.
West eventually failed a lie detector test but was released because no actual crime had been committed.
“I don’t believe he had anything to do with it,” said David Parker. “That man had to go to a mental hospital after my mother died. He had to be put in a hospital for a little bit because everyone was accusing him.”
“I don’t believe him or my father had anything to do with it,” he said.
Shirley Parker wore many hats in her 33 years. She was a “still window model” for The Hecht Company, a chain of department stores. “She used to stand in the window and you would actually think she was a mannequin. She had 15 jobs at one time.”
At the time of her disappearance, Shirley Parker was a barmaid at the Sphinx Club and a Urban League secretary.
David Parker’s time with his mother was brief even though he lived with her and his grandmother while an older brother resided in Pennsylvania with his own father.
“My mom she was a good mom. She was very attentive to me and my brothers needs. She was a very outspoken type woman and everybody liked her; everybody,” David said.
How did a bright, hard working woman that everyone adored end up dead in a fountain leaving a whole city to wonder if something sinister happened?
“What I think happened was my mother swam out into the lake because she was an excellent swimmer, she got awards for swimming. I feel like she swam out there to clear her mind after the argument with Arno and to think about me and my brother. I think when she was ready to go, she stood up and fell back and hit her head on the spout where the water comes out, because the autopsy said she had a hole in the back of her head.”
“I think she hit her head and fell back and was unconscious and with the water coming down on her, she drowned.”
David Parker said he has been unable to find any answers after all these years. “I just want some closure…even if they say anything to pacify me. I have six children asking about their grandmother and I can’t give them no answers.”
While he has asked the police about the case several times over the years, he said he has gotten nowhere.
David Parker said he’s constantly thinking about his mom. He cries all the time but he doesn’t want to put his 92 year old father or his brother through the pain of reopening the case.
“Even if they don’t close the case or find out what happen, I just want one thing done…I want the lights in the fountain turned back on in the Reservoir in memory of my mother; even if it’s just for one day.”
“I want to start a foundation for mom…I want to get Druid Hill Lake Drive renamed to Shirley Parker Way…but I can’t do them all by myself,” David Parker said.
Shirley Parker is buried in Laurel, Md.
Even if the case never gets solved, even if no one is ever brought to justice for what happened to Shirley Parker, Baltimore will never forget “The Lady In The Lake.”