By David Rolland
By David Von Bader
By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
Stokes's body was taken to the M.E.'s office. All Det. Romagni found at the house was a bag of Stokes's laundry and his wallet. "I found about fifteen names on scraps of paper, cards," the homicide cop says. "Ed had many contacts, friends and people he'd met just briefly. But he always wrote the name down with a phone number. With that I started making contact with these people. I felt that by putting out feelers, in some way the news would reach someone who could be helpful."
Although no one he hooked up with was very helpful, the detective's hunch was on the mark. One of the people he called knew Henry and passed along the information that Stokes had died. On January 11 Henry began knocking on doors, placing phone calls, seeking and searching any way he could think of to find out what happened to his friend.
Before long, Henry had located several of Stokes's relatives, including two who could be considered next of kin: an uncle and a half sister.
"I was working on the Bauer murder," Romagni says, referring to North Miami policeman Steve Bauer, who was allegedly gunned down by five bank robbers. "I went to my office and in my phone mail there were five messages, one from Bill, one from Stokes's half sister, and one from his uncle." Henry had located a cousin in New York, who then relayed the bad news to other relatives.
Wendy Austin and Jim Wilk, both of whom live in Broward County, had called Romagni after hearing of the death. "Wendy called me on January 9 or 10," Wilk says. "We learned he was at the Dade County morgue. I called down there and found out who the detective was. I called him a day or two afterwards." He and Stokes were not especially close, he adds. His nephew called about twice a year to say hello. "I got a phone message over Christmas," Wilk says. "We were out of town. He said he was doing okay and that he wanted to wish us a merry Christmas."
Wendy Austin admits that she didn't know her half brother well, either. But she desperately wanted to. "Our father died when Ed was about five. His mother brought him up alone, mostly in Dania or Davie. We lost touch for quite a while. For the past four and a half years, I've been looking very hard for him," she says. "I had a feeling that I was needed, that he needed me. His mother passed away about five years ago. No one ever told me that she passed away. No one told me.
"Maybe I was the black sheep of a dysfunctional family," Austin continues. "My parents split when I was fifteen. Our father died on Friday the 13th in 1971. I saw Ed once by chance. We lived on the same street in Lauderdale Lakes. I never saw him from that last time. I went through musicians exchanges, trying to find him. I had no idea he was homeless. There was no need for it. He told people he had no family. That hurts."
For her, Austin adds, the death of Ed Stokes was a doubling of personal loss. "My mother passed away December 28," she says. "I knew, because of our family background, that Eddie needed somebody. I just knew. Maybe he avoided me because he thought I might force him to do good, I might act like a big sister. And I would have. From the times I talked to him, he was a wonderful, gentle human being, just like his father; gentle and artistic, and that's how I'll always remember him."
Those who knew Ed Stokes better, and wanted to know him longer, have similarly positive things to say. And like Jim Wilk, some came close to seeing him just before he died. "He had called me about ten days before Christmas," says singer Bob Crespo. "He had been living in the Grove, and he said he was bumming big time. He used to do the holidays with the the other members of the Pranksters, but they moved to Puerto Rico. This year he was doing the alone thing, and he was bumming about it." Stokes asked his pal to come visit him. "The next day I was in South Miami, so I went over to the Pronto Pub. There was nobody there. I waited an hour, and left a note telling him to call me. That was it. Two weeks later the detective called me. I thought it was a prank. I said, `Don't do this to me.' But he was serious. As soon as I got off the phone, I got like six calls: `I just got the call, did you?'"
Stokes's body remained at the M.E.'s office for nearly three weeks. Considered an indigent case, he was destined for an anonymous burial in a potter's field. When he found out what was going on, Churchill's Hideaway owner Dave Daniels said he would gladly host a benefit concert to raise funds. Others had the same idea. "We were getting donations together to get things done right," Crespo says. "We had to get 2500 bucks together, and we were halfway there. Then Bill Henry called me, and said the family is taking over."