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County saw one slaying last year

January 05, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

With only one homicide in Washington County in 2003, the death of a 68-year-old woman found bludgeoned to death in her Smithsburg-area home arguably was the most high-profile crime of the year.

And though the number of homicides in the county dropped to its lowest point in many years, including no incidents in the city, there was no lack of shootings, robberies or drug activity in the area, according to local authorities.

Shirley P. Finfrock, 68, was found beaten to death in her 22128 Holiday Drive home on Nov. 12. Finfrock, who died of blunt-force trauma, was found by her husband, Edwyn Finfrock, late that morning.

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Investigators said the weapon that likely was used to commit the murder was recovered, though it has not been described. Investigators also have said a "person of interest" in the case remains in custody on an unrelated set of charges.

The Washington County Sheriff's Department, the agency leading the homicide investigation, has yet to charge anyone in connection with the slaying.

A department spokesperson could not be reached for comment on the investigation Sunday or late last week.

Finfrock's daughter, 47-year-old Brenda L. Hitt, died less than a month later after suffering severe burns at her Hagerstown residence on Nov. 30.

The Washington (D.C.) Chief Medical Examiner's Office ruled the death a suicide.

Meanwhile, there were no homicides in the city of Hagerstown in 2003. Some officers said they could not remember the last year that happened.

Lt. Rick Johnson said officers from the Hagerstown Police Department were counting the hours Wednesday until it was officially 2004 and trying to avoid conversations about the topic.

"We're pretty superstitious. As a group here, we've been knocking on wood," Johnson said.

Wallace slaying


The last homicide inside Hagerstown's boundaries was the Dec. 14, 2002, shooting of Carl Anthony Wallace on Jonathan Street, within view of the Coca-Cola bottling plant.

Karim Ali Ward, of Frederick, Md., whom police allege shot Wallace during a street fight between two women, was arrested in July by officers from the New York Police Department in connection with the incident. Ward is scheduled for a Feb. 2 trial in Washington County Circuit Court.

Since the incident, the Jonathan Street area, long known as a high-crime zone, has been pretty peaceful, according to longtime residents. Residents and authorities alike say cameras, which have been in operation since February, have been key in reducing criminal activity, especially relating to drugs.

Johnson said some offenders have referred to the new crime-monitoring initiative as the "eye in the sky."

"I think it forced a lot of the dealers off the (Jonathan Street) corners," Johnson said. "They're more cognizant of the cameras, and they never know when we're watching."

But while crime seems to be on the decline in that neighborhood, there were a bevy of drug arrests and instances of violent crime plaguing the Noland Village housing development.

Between March and August, there were multiple shootings, stabbings, strong-arm robberies, fights between large groups and many drug possession/distribution arrests.

Johnson said police have had to be more aggressive in the area and suggested the development, like the downtown area, would be among the first areas considered for surveillance cameras if the funds became available in the future.

"The chief has really come out and stated that. We'd all like to see cameras in those areas," he said. "It makes an impact."

Johnson said investigators are pleased that police have charged and taken into custody the people believed to be involved in several nonfatal shootings this year - inside Noland Village, downtown and beyond. Among those in custody, awaiting trial, are Tariq Small, allegedly involved in a June shooting in Court 4 of Noland Village; Marcus J. Chestnut, allegedly involved in a June shooting in the 100 block of East Franklin Street; and James. A. Brown, allegedly involved in a September shooting in the first block of Maple Avenue.

However, Johnson said police still are trying to locate the gunman who, on Aug. 28, wounded two men outside the Neighborhood Inn in the 100 block of North Mulberry Street.

Police have issued a warrant for John Allen Stroud, of Bronx, N.Y., on two counts of attempted second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault, two counts of second-degree assault and one count of reckless endangerment in connection with the incident.

Johnson said the shootings generally are attributed to incidents involving the city's most prevalent problem - drug activity.

No trend seen


Still, Johnson said 2003 was not a year that could be characterized by one particular crime trend. He said the trends seem to be cyclical.

"From a string of robberies to drug-related shootings, it all really depends what's going on in that current month," Johnson said.

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