Before Jason Dean Billingsley was accused of killing the Baltimore entrepreneur Pava LaPere, authorities named him as the suspect in a brutal rape and attempted killing last week in West Baltimore.

On Sept. 19, a man banged on the door of a rooming house in the 800 block of Edmondson Avenue and identified himself as a maintenance worker. When no one opened up, he kicked in the front door, pointed a gun at two people inside then handcuffed and duct-taped them, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.

Authorities believe Billingsley raped the woman and cut her neck. He doused her and the man with some liquid, then set them on fire, according to the source. The couple survived and were hospitalized along with a child in the house.

A neighbor recalled everyone rushing outside when the fire broke out. The neighbor told The Banner they saw two people put into an ambulance, and the victims were saying they had been tortured.

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Police tape blocks off the back of 842 Edmonson Ave.
Police tape is seen on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023 blocking off the back of a rooming house in the 800 block of Edmondson Avenue in West Baltimore, where an assault and fire happened on Sept. 19. (Kylie Cooper)

Latrice Johnson said her 26-year-old son Jonte Gilmore is being treated for burns to his chest, arms and feet. He underwent surgery Wednesday to graft skin from his thighs to other parts of his body.

Johnson said she learned the morning of Sept. 19 that her son was attacked.

She wishes police had done more after the attack to spread the word about Billingsley’s identity.

”That lady’s life could have been saved,” Johnson said.

Police issued a warrant for Billingsley’s arrest last week and identified him as the suspect in the rape and fire. They initially withheld details of the crime, just calling it an arson.

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One week later, on Tuesday, police accused Billingsley of attacking again — this time killing 26-year-old LaPere. They have announced a $6,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

Police found LaPere‘s partially clothed body late Monday morning on the roof of her apartment building in the Mount Vernon neighborhood with signs of blunt-force trauma.

Police consider Billingsley armed and dangerous. Acting Police Commissioner Richard Worley said he “will kill and he will rape.”

Authorities do not believe LaPere knew her suspected attacker. They did not reveal what evidence connected Billingsley to the crime.

Billingsley’s mother, Scarlett Billingsley, told WJZ-TV she is begging her son to surrender to authorities.

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“I told him that he needs to turn himself in, but I really don’t think he’s going to do that because he’s scared,” she said.

She said she found out her son was the suspect in LaPere’s killing from friends and from seeing his face on TV.

“I screamed,” she said. “I cried. I can’t understand what happened that he would do something like that.”

Multiple agencies including the U.S. Marshals Service and Maryland State Police are cooperating in the search for Billingsley, 32, a registered sex offender and convicted felon who was released on Oct. 5, 2022, after more than nine years of incarceration.

Maryland’s Comprehensive Registered Sex Offender Website listed Billingsley as being “non-complaint” because he had failed to register as required.

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Why Jason Billingsley and other Maryland inmates earn early release from prison

Billingsley pleaded guilty in 2015 in Baltimore Circuit Court to first-degree sex offense and was sentenced to 30 years in prison, with all but 14 years suspended, plus five years’ probation. He admitted to strangling a woman, forcing her to perform oral sex and stealing $53 in 2013.

Circuit Judge Emanuel Brown questioned why he should accept a plea agreement below the sentencing guidelines, which called for a punishment ranging from 15 to 25 years in prison.

“Why?” Brown asked. “It’s horrible.”

Assistant State’s Attorney Robert “Trey” Perkins III said he spoke with the woman who reported that she was “pleased with the arrangement.”

Perkins agreed that the case involved a “horrible set of facts.” But he said the woman had been through enough and noted that it is traumatizing to testify at trial in front of 12 strangers.

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Brown said was persuaded to accept the plea agreement though he thought “this case deserves a lot more than the 14.” He ended the court proceedings with a warning.

”Mr. Billingsley, this court accepted the guilty plea really based on the agreement of the victim in this case. I say that so you understand that this court had something else in mind,” Brown said. “I say that, because I want you to fully appreciate that this court is not satisfied with this plea agreement. But went along with it because of the trauma it would cause the victim to have to come in and testify.”

”So if you violate probation, you should expect to get a substantial portion of the balance of this sentence,” he added. “Do you understand, sir?”

David Blumberg, chairman of the Maryland Parole Commission, said Billingsley was denied parole and released on good-time credits.

Billingsley also has a 2009 conviction for first-degree assault and a 2011 conviction for second-degree assault.

Meanwhile, there is an arrest warrant on a charge of theft of a handgun in Baltimore County, Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said.

Slayings like LaPere’s are exceptionally rare, a Banner analysis of police crime data found. Women are far less likely to be the victim in a homicide than men. It’s also very rare for people to be killed at their residence. And relatively few killings have happened near LaPere’s Mount Vernon apartment complex.

Of the six people slain within about two blocks since 2015, all were men killed in public. Citywide, seven men were slain for each woman last year.

LaPere was a transplant from Tucson, Arizona, who moved to Baltimore to attend college at Johns Hopkins, and decided to make her new city home. Within a few years, she rose to prominence in the fledgling tech community, starting a company called EcoMap Technologies. She was well known to business leaders and even the mayor.

As a recent graduate of a prestigious college, and CEO of a company she created as a student, she quickly carved out a life in her adopted hometown. She rented an apartment in a neighborhood known for museums, restaurants and grand architecture, within walking distance of the Washington Monument and the Peabody conservatory.

Her company released a statement Tuesday mourning her death. It read, in part:

“The circumstances surrounding Pava’s death are deeply distressing, and our deepest condolences are with her family, friends, and loved ones during this incredibly devastating time. Pava was not only the visionary force behind EcoMap but was also a deeply compassionate and dedicated leader. Her untiring commitment to our company, to Baltimore, to amplifying the critical work of ecosystems across the country, and to building a deeply inclusive culture as a leader, friend, and partner set a standard for leadership, and her legacy will live on through the work we continue to do.”

Residents of LaPere’s apartment building at 306 W. Franklin St. (where LaPere also rented office space) received an email Tuesday from the building’s management that acknowledged the slaying.

“Regrettably, a serious incident occurred on our property recently, resulting in the loss of life,” the email said in part. “Please rest assured that this incident was isolated, and the authorities have taken all necessary steps to ensure the safety of everyone within our community.”

Entry to the building is controlled by a security system.

Pava LaPere of EcoMap Technologies
Credit: EcoMap Technologies.

The circumstances of her killing play into a trope about violent crime that might be statistically rare, but singularly powerful. Robin McNulty walked her dog past LaPere’s building Wednesday morning. She just moved to the neighborhood a month ago from San Diego and has lived comfortably in cities her whole life.

LaPere’s killing resembles a “scenario single women worry about,” McNulty said.

However, she is also concerned the case could trigger people to call for more tough-on-crime policies. Her work with incarcerated people has made her sensitive to that pattern.

”This is horrific for this woman, but also is this going to cause a backlash in a massive stream of funding for police,” she said. “I’m new here so I don’t fully understand the landscape.”

Around the corner from LaPere’s apartment, Cajou Creamery co-founder Dwight Campbell was still reeling from the news of LaPere’s death. The two first met in spring 2022 when LaPere was looking to move her company somewhere she could make an impact, Campbell said. The owner of the plant-based cafe and ice cream shop remembers their conversation lasting three hours and how LaPere gravitated toward the energy of the neighborhood, which has welcomed several vibrant small businesses in recent years.

A few weeks after they spoke, LaPere moved into the top floor of 306 W. Franklin St. and set up an office for EcoMap on the ground floor, he said. Campbell continued to see her around the neighborhood. She often dropped by Cajou Creamery to check in with him and even carved out time to meet with another young tech entrepreneur at his request.

Campbell considered LaPere a “genius” and figures she could have gotten a job working for any tech company she wanted. Instead, she chose to work with the “little people,” he said. Her sensitivity toward community building was strong.

”There are a lot of things wrong with the system for helping Black, brown and women-owned businesses,” Campbell said. “She understood that.”

Campbell last saw LaPere two weeks ago. When he heard about her death, he felt like he’d taken a punch to the chest.

”It still feels that way,” Campbell said Wednesday afternoon.

The business owner keeps thinking back on LaPere’s belief that not enough light was being shone on Baltimore’s successes.

”She would not have wanted what happened to her to denigrate all of the hard work this city is doing and has done,” Campbell said.

Additional reporting contributed by Baltimore Banner reporter Jasmine Vaughn-Hall and Baltimore Banner data editor Ryan Little.

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