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                                                 Haunting Murders

  Baltimore is a city where a murder occurs nearly every day. Too many people have guns. Too many people have too many passions. Too many young men are involved in the only industry that they get a close look at day after day....the drug industry. I am especially disheartened about so many young persons killing other young persons, and over what? A drug deal gone wrong? A perceived act of disrespect? A dirty look? I am saddened every time I read about a l6-year-old lying in some inner city alley, his life juice draining out of him. I pray that the day comes when everyone loves his brother as much as he loves himself, and that everyone has a healthy supply of self-love, self-respect.
  The kinds of murders that I have included in my compendium are not these types of murders. My criterion for selection is that each of the below crimes contains an element that for me is haunting to the extreme. Many of them highlight the kind of tragedy that can happen to an ordinary Baltimorean going about his or her daily activities. Others point to a peculiar darkness that might lodge in the hearts of individuals, unbeknown to them until the right catalyst occurs.

                                       Wish Granted? Sharon Lopatka, 1996

  Sharon Lopatka was a married woman of 35, childless. Her parents were solid citizens and devout Jews; her father was a cantor at a large N.W. Baltimore synagogue. It could not have made Sharon's parents happy that she chose to marry a Catholic construction worker. Sharon and her husband moved to Hampstead, Md. At a time when computers were not yet a staple in every person's home, Sharon spent many hours online, operating several modest businesses. She gave psychic readings online. She had a "900" number. Eventually, Sharon found her way to one of the darkest corners of the internet. In a chat room, she met Robert Glass, a computer programmer and recently divorced father of 3. Glass was willing to comply with a request by Sharon that other men had passed up. She wanted to be tortured and strangled (according to the extensive correspondence which police later found on the computer).



  Fabricating an excuse about visiting relatives, Sharon boarded a train for Charlotte, N. C. She left notes for her family stating that they should not worry if they never again saw her body. Eventually her body was found near the trailer where Glass lived. The North Carolina prosecutors nabbed their man but bumped down the charges against Glass, fearful that the jurors might not be familiar with cyberspace. Nor did the prosecutors think it would help the case to introduce Sharon's internet chats in an open courtroom. Glass was sentenced to 8 years and l0 months for voluntary manslaughter. He died unexpectedly in prison shortly before his release date. Sharon's murder throws light on a sinister side of the internet. It also begs answers for what was going on in Sharon's psyche. School friends described her as a straight arrow who sang in her school choir and was active in sports. Was she so bored with life that she sought extreme thrills? So unhappy with life that she sought to end it? So frightened by her worst fears that she chose to run headlong into them. Sharon, I hope that you are now at peace.


                          Mr. Hricko Receives a Valentine 1998

  Here I venture outside the city limits of Baltimore. No matter. Although almost a daily murder occurs within the actual city, murder does not honor the political demarcations leading into nearby counties. On Valentine's Day 1998 Mr. and Mrs. Hricko attended a Valentine's Day murder-mystery weekend in the Eastern Shore town of St. Michael's. A friend had spent about $250 to give the couple a romantic weekend. Actors presented a play in which the groom got "poisoned." But the real death occurred in the bed of 35-year-old Stephen Hricko. (Stephen had worked as a golf instructor. His wife was a surgical technologist).

  Mrs. Kimberly Hricko phoned the fire department to report a fire in her cottage room at the 111-room resort motel. She stated that her husband had been drinking and they had quarreled about sex (to have or not to have), after which left the room and drove into the countryside, getting lost. When she returned, Mr. Hricko lay dead in his bed. Fire officials immediately noticed that the pattern of the fire was bizarre. No soot or burns was found in the dead man's trachea; no carbon monoxide--and no alcohol in his blood. Some parts of the bed were not burned. Still, there was not, at this time, enough evidence to arrest Kimberly and the case was closed.

  One year later, the case was reopened and a new detective assigned. Police questioned Mrs. Hricko's friends and learned of damming conversations. Murder was on her mind. She once offered a colleague $50,000 to dispose of her husband. Kim was having an affair at the time of her husband's death. She had taken out a large life insurance policy on her husband just months before his death. Noting that Kimberly Hricko had worked in operating rooms, the detective remembered a case from California where a surgical technician had obtained sustinalcoline and had killed several patients by injecting them with it. This substance is a muscle relaxant. It completely paralyzes breathing and all muscles, killing a person within a couple minutes. Then it quickly eludes detection in the body. Based on the new evidence, Kim was arrested, charged with murder and arson.
  The case crawled through the criminal justice system. Kim's lawyer having failed to quash a supoena,Kim was forced to turn over to police all syringes in her possession as well as certain correspondence. An empty vial of sustinalcoline was recovered. Stephen Hricko's body was exhumed. The trial was delayed one time at prosecution's request that more time was needed to obtain forensic evidence. Trial was delayed a second time because of power failure at the courthouse. Kim turned down a plea bargain (2nd degree murder, 30 years). The prosecutor then told Kim's lawyer that if she did not accept the plea bargain, a notice would be filed seeking the death penalty. Request for a change of venue was denied. Request to drop charges on grounds of lack of a speedy trial was denied. At jury selection, the defense objected because the prosecution was bumping as many female potential jurors as it could. Eventually the trial started. The verdict was guilty of murder, guilty of arson.
  Kim hired a new lawyer, who filed a motion for a new trial. This motion was denied. Kimberly Hricko was sentenced to life imprisonment. The case dragged its way to the Court of Special Appeals who upheld the verdict. Understandably, the Hricko case attracted much attention. On October 29, 2002, a cable TV channel aired the story as a film called "Snapped." A writer, Linda Rosencrance, wrote a book entitled "An Act of Murder".

  Are there any lessons to be learned from such an outlandish culmination of what began as the most common of domestic situations: a marriage on the rocks? Why didn't Mrs. Hricko just pack her bag and leave? After all, she was a medical professional who had the means to support herself. Perhaps she feared she would be denied custody of her child? But what could be worse for a child than one parent killed, the other in prison? To commit this crime at a Valentine Murder Mystery trip was bound to cause a sensation. Did Kim Hricko have the hubris to believe that she could pull off this murder without detection? Yet she almost did. At one point, the case had been closed. She drew the bad luck card when the new, knowledgeable detective was assigned a year later. The indiscretion of asking a coworker to rub your husband out was inexcusable. Is there a more gossipy worksite than a large hospital?! Taking death insurance on a person and killing that person two months later is also rather daft. Kim Hricko wanted out of this marriage so bad that she threw all caution to the winds.Why did she set such a clumsy fire? WHY--more than a year after the crime--would she have in her possession the empty drug vial? Isn't all of this like wanting to get apprehended? This writer does not know why the marriage became intolerable. One can only pray that Mr. Hricko now rests in peace, and that Mrs. Hricko will find some peace within herself someday.

                                                Death of a Priest  1979


  It was a frigid Friday night in late February, 1979, the kind of night that might make a person want to get in from the cold. The man who who shared an apartment with E. Paul Jowett at 222 St. Paul Street did not have that concern. He had left before 8 p.m. to spend the evening in Philadelphia. However, Episcopal priest E. Paul Jowett did not spend the night alone. At an undetermined hour of Friday night-Saturday morning, someone entered the priest's apartment. Jowett's friend/housemate arrived back in Baltimore the next morning, stopping on his way home to shop at Lexington Market. He walked into carnage. Father Jowett was bound up hand and foot. He had been bludgeoned to death. The housemate immediately dialed 911.

  What manner of crime was this, what motivation? A crime of convenience by someone wandering around the street? Hardly. The apartment was on the 22nd floor. Until 2 l/2 years ago, Father Paul had lived in the rectory of his Park Avenue church. But church officials deemed it best that he move- away from the rectory, away from the parish, away from the church's school where he sometimes taught. Afterward, the priest obtained a position as assistant chaplain at the now defunct Church Hospital. Little more is known. Much can be inferred. I do not think that this crime was solved. The newspapers were discreet. They even withheld the name of the housemate. Yearly, at All Souls' Day in his former church, Fr. Jowett's name appears on a long list of the necronomium.  R.I.P. Father Jowett.

           She Failed to Attend Her Own Party    Catherine Taylor, Dec. 19, 1986

  The Harvey House Restaurant in the 900 block N. Charles Street already had its Christmas tree lights blinking. The warmth and camaraderie of the regulars who stood singing by the piano were in stark contrast to the bitter December night outside, the bleakness of the near deserted streets as the hour neared 2 a.m. This inner circle would have enjoyed the additional warmth of a few drinks. Catherine Taylor, 69, a psychiatrist's secretary, was a charter member of this group.. Catherine seldom left Harvey House before the witching hour of last call. She often parked on Hamilton Street. The 4 or 5 blocks would have been a pleasant stroll in the bustle of a noon lunch hour. At 2 a.m. this walk presented more of a challenge.

  It is not known whether Catherine took the walk this particular night. An employee who refused to be identified stated, "She was alone and she stayed until we closed. She patronized our establishment quite often. She knew us all and she would talk to us. (Balto. Sunpaper, 12/23/86).Catherine had arranged a catered party for upward of 50 relatives and friends the coming Sunday evening at Overlea Hall. Her psychiatrist employer, Dr. Hyman Rubenstein, had been invited to the party. Friends' antennae went up when Catherine failed to show for a Saturday hair appointment. But when the hostess was a no-show at her own party Sunday night, Catherine's husband, Irvin, decided that it was time to report her missing. He said that he had not worried sooner because Catherine would often be away from home for days at a time.

  Early on the morning of Monday, December 22, a man looking for aluminum cans in a parking lot near Fallsway and Monument Streets found more than he was searching for. The body of Catherine Taylor lay wrapped in a rug between two parked cars in the 500 block of the (aptly named) Terminal Street. A preliminary autopsy on Catherine indicated that she had died of head injuries and strangulation. The $250 in checks that she had carried when she left work were not found on the woman's fully clothed, rug-wrapped body. I could find no mention in newspaper reports of pocketbook or car, and it is possible that the checks had already been deposited. I do not know what the bank records revealed.
  If the police ever had a suspect in the death of Catherine Taylor, they likely reached a dead end due to lack of witnesses or evidence. Husband, Irvin, was 70 at the time of his wife's murder. One wonders about a marriage where a woman gone missing for 2 days concerns her hairdresser more than it does her husband. Yet there certainly are marriages where two people choose to lead their own lives and pursue their own interests without bothering to dismantle their living situation. Mr. and Mrs. Taylor lived on Park Place, a modest, respectable street off Windsor Mill Road, tucked in behind Dickeyville and Kernan Hospital, and just a few blocks north of Leakin Park, a frequent repository for Baltimore bodies.

  Sixty-nine is oldish for having whatever it takes to close up a restaurant-bar on a regular basis. But Catherine obviously found a home away from home among the gang who clustered around the piano at the Harvey House. Did she also find a killer there?
  This writer's interest in Catherine Taylor's death stems from several sources. One of my family members had met Catherine at Dr. Rubenstein's office, and found her to be cheerful and outgoing. My stepfather's brother, a pathologist and talented pianist, was a friend of the doctor many years before. This friendship tells the story of still a different chapter of Baltimore history. the early 1950's. when the neighborhood of Whitelock Street, Linden Avenue and Eutaw, 2400 block, was Jewish and "old world." My step-uncle the pianist and Dr. Rubenstein, a concert violinist, would get together to play music. Dr. Rubenstein's name made the local papers at least two more times before this man of many talents died at age 90. In 1987, when the doctor was well into his 80's, his car zoomed out of his parking garage in the 3900 block N. Charles Street. The car crossed Charles Street, crashing into a house on the other side and tragically killing the doctor's elderly wife. About 7 years later I read the doctor's obituary. (R.I. P.)
  Baltimore being the small town that it can be, I later learned that a friend of a friend had been a close friend of Catherine! I phoned this woman, who shared my regret that a murderer had never been found. I was told that Catherine had a problem with drink and would sometimes spend a night with this friend when in no condition to drive home. I note, though, that Catherine's employer had described her as dependable during the 25+ years that she had worked for him.
  How do you piece together a woman like Catherine? First, to throw a party for 5 dozen friends requires chutzpah. To get a week's advance of wages in order to do so requires even more. To drink out night after night requires $$$. --more $$$ than a part-time secretary would have. Who was picking up this bar tab? Catherine's job had sounded idyllic to me as a possible retirement job. In 1986 a doctor's secretary could do a little typing, pull a few charts, chat with the clients. This was before the frenetic days when insurance companies demanded advanced studies in medical billing. (Dear Catherine, as you once sang at the Harvey House, may you now be singing with choirs of angels!) -DB
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