Town is calm, even with killer loose

August 15, 1997


Staff Writer

CLEAR SPRING - Residents went about their business Thursday, trying to make sense of an escaped convict who 15 years ago murdered his grandmother a few miles east of here.

Charles Elmer Carpenter, who is now 32, remained at large for a fourth day after failing to return from an unsupervised pass Sunday night. Correctional officials released a photograph that was taken in 1994.

In Clear Spring, several residents said they either knew Carpenter or members of his family.

Tim McCusker, who went to school with Carpenter's older brother, said both boys were quiet and unassuming. Although he did not know the younger Carpenter well, he remembered being shocked when he learned that he had murdered his grandmother by shooting her at close range with a shotgun.


Even now, McCusker, 38, said does not believe the town faces grave danger.

"I don't think he's a violent person. He always seemed like a pretty quiet kid," he said. "I wouldn't be afraid of him."

Still, the prospect of a convicted murderer possibly returning home concerns some.

Clear Spring has little crime. With 415 residents, most residents know each other.

"Basically, everybody who lives in Clear Spring is either a friend or somehow associated with each other," said Butch Reed. "It's not the type of town where you need two or three deadbolts on each door. It's a pretty peaceful town."

Dangerous or not, several residents said they were fairly certain Carpenter would eventually make his way into the area.

"I've been thinking about it some," said Jeff Myers, who was walking down Cumberland Street in the heart of town. "When I see a lot of that stuff, it seems like they always come back to where they're from. I don't know if he'll cause any trouble, but I think this is where they'll find him if they do."

But despite several reports in recent days that Carpenter has been seen in the area, others were not so sure.

"Why is he going to come back to the place where he grew up - unless he figures he's another Merle Unger," said Steve Blair. "I think they'll find him a long way off."

Unger, who is serving time for the 1975 slaying of a Hagerstown police officer, gained notoriety for escaping from eight prisons during a 16-year period.

Blair, 38, said his wife went to school with Carpenter and that he was about five years ahead of him.

"He just seemed like a normal kid," he said.

However, considering Carpenter has spent 15 years in jail, Blair added: "I don't know how his mind works now."

Many people also voiced a question often raised since Carpenter failed to return to a Baltimore halfway house: How can a man serving a life sentence for murder have been allowed unsupervised trips into the community?

Therapists at the Patuxent Institution, where he was serving his sentence, have maintained that the murder resulted from a unique set of circumstances that cannot be repeated. But people on the street in Clear Spring expressed skepticism.

"Once you've done it once, you're sort of leery, aren't you? Particularly if he's in the community. God knows where he is," said Pinesburg resident Paul Roth, who often shops at a hardware store in Clear Spring.

"The law is very lax - not only here, but in other places," Roth added. "Just because you keep him in prison so many years, that doesn't mean he's cured. If it were up to me, I'd put him in jail and throw away the key."

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