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Police say progress in slaying case slow

November 20, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Eight days after Shirley P. Finfrock was found slain in her Smithsburg home, police said it could be months before they can narrow down a list of possible suspects.

Finfrock, 68, was found beaten to death in her 22128 Holiday Drive home on Nov. 12. No arrests have been made in connection with the case.

The wait hinges on the evidence that was collected and how quickly it is processed by state agencies, Washington County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Mark Knight said this week.

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"They're very good at what they do," Knight said, "but it takes time." Even if they move "as quick as they can, (it) could still be a couple months.

"You kind of get in line and hopefully you can get something by the end of December."

Police sealed off the Finfrocks' home for three days, recovering what was believed to be the murder weapon, as well as dozens of other pieces of evidence. Police have not said what the murder weapon was.

Police gathered undisclosed evidence Saturday from a man they have called "a person of interest," Knight said.

The Sheriff's Department issued a sketch of a man seen walking near the Finfrocks' home on the day her body was found, and on Saturday they questioned for 15 hours a man they believed fit that description. He was being held Wednesday on unrelated charges.

That man has not been charged in the crime, but without going into specifics, Knight said police collected evidence from him and sent it to the state crime lab.

On Tuesday, police gathered two "key pieces of evidence," what could be the most promising evidence yet, when teams of 44 Maryland State Police cadets canvassed an area along the railroad tracks behind the Finfrocks' home, Knight said.

Knight said blood samples, fingerprints, and other pieces of evidence in Finfrock's case still were being taken to the Maryland State Police Forensic Science Division in Pikesville for processing.

The lab is the state police's only crime lab, and is heavily relied upon by large and small police departments as well as the federal government, said State Police spokesman Cpl. Rob Moroney.

Moroney said the lab handles 15,000 to 18,000 cases a year, and 51 homicide cases in 2002 involved genetic testing. A total of 167 cases handled by the state lab last year involved genetic testing, Moroney said.

Personnel at the Pikesville lab have warned Sheriff's Department investigators of a six-month backlog in evidence processing.

Knight said that process is sometimes pushed faster if it involves a homicide, but even so, he said he didn't expect to hear anything for at least two months. He said cases do not receive as high a priority if no charges have been filed, which is the situation in the Finfrock case.

The Maryland Chief Medical Examiner's Office ruled Finfrock died as a result of blunt-force trauma, marking her death as a homicide.

Investigators usually can glean more information from an autopsy, Knight said, and one bit of information investigators were hoping for was an estimate of the time Finfrock died.

The time frame established last week was that she was killed between 6:30 a.m., the time her husband told police he left for work, and 11:30 a.m., when he returned home and discovered her body.

Medical examiners would not provide the estimate until a final autopsy report was issued. Knight said that could be three months away.

"We just have to sit back and wait. And that's the frustrating part," Knight said.

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