The man who took Ray White’s life will go to trial on Tuesday, June 18th, and Ray White will be there, God willing. It’s not a murder trial, but it might as well be as far as Ray is concerned. “He should have just put a bullet through my head,” Ray told me by phone. “That would have been less painful.”
Now Ray lives for one thing: to see the man who scammed him out of everything be held accountable. “I think he was counting on me dying, but I have been holding on for this day.”
Ray White is 89 years old. He fought in World War II and was at the Battle of the Bulge. He came back home and made a life for himself in South Philadelphia. Bought a house on Juniper Street. Even made enough money to feed his hobby, rebuilding and refinishing vintage cars. Ray was proud of the Bentley and Cadillac in his driveway.
The cars caught the eye of 59-year-old Melvin Mcilwaine in January of 2012. He struck up a conversation with White, and a friendship grew. Ray has no known living relatives and trusted Mcilwaine like a brother.
Police say Mcilwaine used that trust to convince White that his South Philly neighborhood was not safe and that someone would rob him blind; that someone was Mcilwaine. Ray White ended up signing over his house, his cars, even took out a loan so that Mcilwaine could keep the cars safe in storage.
Melvin Mcilwaine is accused of scamming Ray White out of $380,000—everything he owned, from medals and photographs to important papers. Ray White was left with nothing: “I was left to sleep on a park bench. I didn’t know where I was going to get food.”
After a few days of being homeless and on the streets, Ray was admitted to the VA hospital. He has since broken his hip and is now at a nursing facility in Northeast Philadelphia. Several veteran organizations and veterans have been trying to help Ray, including retired Navy officer Joe Eastman, the son of a WWII veteran. Eastman has been on a crusade to get Ray White’s life and dignity back and, most importantly, to get Ray justice. “When people prey upon one veteran, they have to deal with every veteran in Philadelphia,” Eastman wrote to me.
Mcilwaine has been in jail since he was arrested in March. He has a long criminal record and can now add charges of theft by deception to his rap sheet. Bail was set at $600,000. On Tuesday, when Mcilwaine walks into the courtroom for the start of his trial, he is expected to get his first close look at the wrath he has unleashed by targeting a war hero.
Eastman sent out a mass email to veterans and veteran groups to pack the courtroom for Ray on June 18th. “While it may be hard to believe for those who know all the sordid details of this case,” wrote Joe, “it is far from a slam dunk. This will be very difficult for Ray to prove.” Joe Eastman wants to impress upon the court that Ray White is not alone. “The judge and jury need to see we are paying attention and that our veterans are united in support of Ray.”
If you would like to heed Joe Eastman’s call to rally for Ray, be in courtroom 305 of the Criminal Justice Center (13th and Filbert streets) at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 18.
Ray White will be in the courtroom. There isn’t anything that could keep him away. He is nervous. He is embarrassed. But he is determined that justice be done. “I’m not vindictive, I just don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else. Death is a kinder fate.”