Most homicides in 1997 tied to criminal activity

January 11, 1998

Most homicides in 1997 tied to criminal activity


Staff Writer

Six people lost their lives last year in Washington County at the hands of a killer, up from one the year before.

The murder rate fluctuates, however. What concerns residents and police officials about the homicides last year is the way they happened.

Typically, the county's murders have tended to be the result of domestic violence. But only one of last year's homicides - the May 5 slaying of a woman on Garis Shop Road near Funkstown - can be characterized that way, according to police.


The rest of homicides were related to other criminal activity. Three of the four that occurred in Hagerstown bear an eerie similarity. In each case, a man who was from another state was shot in the head at close range "execution style." Authorities believe drugs played a role in all three shootings.

Those are the kinds of homicides residents say they fear most.

"If I have a domestic (dispute) with my wife, I'm just targeting her," said Joe Imes, liaison of a neighborhood watch group in the West End. "But if I'm out to commit a drug-related murder, I don't care who I kill."

Dr. Arthur H. Horn, a deputy Washington County medical examiner, said the kinds of wounds he examined in a Westview housing complex slaying are "very unusual for Hagerstown." He Washington County residents are more familiar with murders of passion, "not cold-blooded murder done for financial reasons."

"We have a real sheltered community. It's a little bit too far away from the big city to have a regular influence," he said. "This stuff happens in the big city all the time."

But Horn said he fears drug-related violence may be creeping into Hagerstown.

The drug-inspired shootings also have police officials concerned.

"That's a whole different complexion That's a critical difference. It's stranger-to-stranger violence," said Hagerstown Police Chief Dale J. Jones.

"You hope that it's an unusual year," he added. "My hope is we'll see a drastic reduction, especially in homicides."


But Jones said recent trends indicate it might be another bloody year. Although police have not yet detected turf wars, he said the profile of the typical drug dealer in Hagerstown has changed over the last few years. More and more, they are coming from places like New York and Florida and they are increasingly carrying guns, Jones said.

"The numbers are just coming up across the board," he said.

Jones said officials were aware of these trends heading into 1997.

"We knew that we had to beef up and be much more aggressive," he said.

Meanwhile, Hagerstown investigators will continue to search for clues in the one homicide from 1997 that remains unsolved. In that case, police found the body of Brooklyn, N.Y., resident Eric "Supreme" Williams, 31, in an apartment at 903 Lanvale Street.

No arrests have been made in connection with the June slaying, but Sgt. Ronald Graves said authorities have not given up hope.

"It's still an active investigation. We have guys working on that every week," he said. "I think we'll solve it."

Graves said police believe several key witnesses have left the area.

"The hardest part with that case is looking for certain individuals," he said.

Solving three of four homicide cases translates to a 75 percent success ratio. But Jones said Hagerstown is too small to look at closure rates for murder. He said he wants to see every case solved.

There were only two homicides last year outside the city, but authorities said the county is not immune from the problems the city faces.

"That's mostly a concern in the city, but it does overflow into the county on occasion," said Cpl. Roy Harsh, an investigator with the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

Harsh said there is no solid explanation for the fluctuating homicide rate.

"We were really fortunate to only have two. Hopefully this year, we'll be just as lucky, and I wouldn't be disappointed if we were even luckier," he said.Prevention efforts

Police officials have taken a number of steps in an attempt to prevent homicides this year.

Authorities designated several blocks surrounding Jonathan Street as a so-called "hot spot" where officials will concentrate efforts to prevent and reduce crime. Two community police officers now patrol the neighborhood and a third will be added this year, Jones said.

In addition, the police department this year will deploy its crime-impact team, which Jones said will increase visibility on the streets.

Jones said police will continue to target the drug trade. Noting that the number of drug arrests doubled between 1995 and 1997, however, he said it is important to get area residents involved.

"It's not just a police department issue," he said.

Neighborhood activists agreed. Stan Brown Jr., vice president of Brothers United Who Dare to Care, said police have been more visible in the Jonathan Street area in recent months.

"The community needs to be more aware and the police need to continue their street enforcement practices," he said.

Imes, of West End Against Trouble, Crime and Harassment, said he hopes groups like his deter crime. But he noted that two youths were arrested for carrying guns in his own neighborhood last year.

"That's the sort of thing that really petrifies me. That's why I started the neighborhood watch," he said.

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