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His chase is after criminals

October 19, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Thomas Chase was 19 years old when the call that would change his life came over the scanner at 5:45 a.m., waking him from his overnight shift at a Frederick fire company.

At first, it sounded innocuous. An injured person in the 300 block of Upper College Terrace. A neighboring fire company was dispatched.

But Chase became disturbed when he heard that a dog also was hurt. His grandmother walked her aging cocker spaniel mix in that neighborhood every morning.

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"I knew my grandmother's routine. She did the same thing every day," which included an early-morning walk with the dog followed by a bike ride to morning Mass, Chase said.

By the time Chase got to the hospital, doctors were trying in vain to resuscitate the badly beaten 75-year-old woman.

Anna Margaret Myers and her dog, Buddy Boy, both died of their injuries. The date was June 29, 1974.

If Chase is haunted by the memory, he doesn't let it show. He tells the story with an emotional detachment that is characteristic of some police officers.

One might assume, and some of his colleagues have, that Chase got into police work because of his grandmother's death, a romantic notion that he could solve the case that stumped other detectives.

But Chase, 49, said he already was headed toward public service when his grandmother died.

He had started his college career in pre-med at Mount St. Mary's in Emmitsburg, Md., following in the footsteps of his father, a retired doctor who lives in Frederick.

But after realizing he couldn't handle the academic rigors of the medical profession, he decided to fall back on a career in public service.

After going through the police academy, he joined his hometown police department in 1977 and never has looked back. He was promoted to detective two years later and now commands the criminal investigation division.

"I didn't become a policeman to solve that case. I didn't become a detective to look over their shoulder," he said.

In part to prove that to his colleagues, he never cracked open the case files.

It also would have been unprofessional and potentially harmful to insert himself into the investigation.

"The worst thing in the world that could happen is for any element of the case to be compromised," he said.

He already had learned how to practice professional confidentiality when he was growing up. His father often excused himself from the dinner table to take a patient's call.

Even though he overheard one end of the conversation, he was taught that the information never was to leave the house.

Just like it wouldn't have been proper for his father to treat his broken leg as a child, it wasn't appropriate for Chase to pursue his grandmother's killer.

"There's no reason for me to know exactly what's in that file because I'm not going to do anything about it anyway," he said.

He knows that everyone involved with the investigation did everything they could to solve the case.

He credits Police Chief Charles V. Main and detectives John Tinney, James R. Fraley and Paul Mossburg for working hard on the investigation.

"They gave it their best. They gave it all they possibly could," he said.

One of the few privileges he's allowed himself was accepting Buddy's dog tag from Mossburg, who found it when he was cleaning out his desk at retirement.

A motive for the slaying has eluded investigators. Chase said he doesn't think it was robbery because the only thing his grandmother carried with her was a rosary.

Perhaps she interrupted a burglary, he says.

Nearly 30 years later, Chase said he doesn't think there ever will be a conviction in the case.

For all he knows, the killer may be dead.

The neighbor who found Myers lying unconscious on the sidewalk has died. The man had looked outside his home after hearing moaning and seeing a tall slim figure "half running" by.

Also gone is Dr. Robert Edelman, who tried to save Myers at Frederick Memorial Hospital. Chase knew Edelman through his father and through working at the hospital as a nursing attendant.

Chase remembers walking in the emergency room that night just when Edelman asked, "Does anybody know who this woman is?"

"I said, 'Yeah, I do,'" although she barely was recognizable from the beating.

Chase remembers telling Edelman not to take extraordinary measures to save her because she was a woman of faith who was not afraid to die.

Even though the heartbreaking experience did not influence his decision to go into police work, Chase said he draws on it when he talks to family members who have lost loved ones.

"I would like to think that it makes me able to understand," he said.

Unlike most other police officers, Chase knows that anniversaries and publicity often dredge up painful memories.

His mother, in fact, was not happy that the case has received renewed publicity.

It's in the news because Frederick Police recently put 10 unsolved homicides online in an attempt to generate new leads.

Myers' case is the oldest on the list.

"Whether it's from 1974 or from 2003, we need help. We want the public to know we're still working on it," Chase said. "I'm hoping that it'll break some stuff loose."

So far, police have received tips on four of the cases which are in the process of being tracked down. None involved Myers.

But he and other family members have learned that closure doesn't come from an arrest or a conviction. It comes from within.

Although no one may ever know exactly what happened to Anna Margaret Myers, Chase said he's been able to come to terms with her death.

"It doesn't matter what happens, she's never coming back," he said.

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