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Homicide cases still unsolved

May 23, 2004|By PEPPER BALLARD

WASHINGTON COUNTY

A romantic night on the banks of the Potomac River turned deadly for Goldie Elizabeth Fritz in March 1979.

The 20-year-old woman and her boyfriend allegedly were forced by a gunman to the river's edge near Hancock. Although her boyfriend managed to swim to the West Virginia shore, Fritz drowned in its murky waters.

No one knows who killed her.

Just about a month ago, Maryland State Police Cold Case Investigator Sgt. John Cook picked up the unsolved homicide file and decided it was worth re-examining. He said he hopes the results of DNA testing on Fritz's clothes and other evidence found at the crime scene might lead police closer to finding her killer.

Fritz's case is among 10 homicides in Washington County that have gone unsolved. They are called cold cases because of their inactive status.

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Leads on six of the homicides ran out for investigators at the Maryland State Police barrack in Hagerstown. Investigators at the Washington County Sheriff's Department have one cold case, and detectives at the Hagerstown Police Department have three.

Fritz was killed nearly three years after graduating from Clear Spring High School. Her body was pulled from the Potomac River on March 13, 1979, said Sgt. Steve Ganley, supervisor of the Maryland State Police criminal investigations unit in Hagerstown.

"She was found nude in the water," Cook said. "Somewhere in the file, it said there was no sexual assault, and that may not be true, but it was also in 1979 and things are different now."

Fresh memories

Cook is one of two cold case investigators with the Maryland State Police homicide unit in Columbia, Md. He said that about a month ago, while looking over the nearly 100-page file on Fritz's death, he decided to send the woman's clothes and other evidence found at the crime scene to be tested for DNA. He said he should receive the test results in about two months.

Cook said there are more than 100 cold cases in the state, including missing persons cases.

Retired state police investigator Jeff Hewett, who is now a Washington County Sheriff's Department resident deputy first class in Boonsboro, said that in the late 1990s he looked over some of the cold cases at the local state police barrack, including Fritz's.

When Hewett reviewed the case, he talked to Fritz's family and to the couple who saw her boyfriend in West Virginia the night she died. Nearly 20 years after the homicide, Hewett said, the interviewees' memories still were fresh.

The lead investigator on the case has died, he said.

Fritz's father, Gayle Fritz, 66, said, "Every time they ask, we tell them what we can, but you'd think they know everything by now."

Cook said that's not always the case.

"You're always going to read a report and ask why something wasn't done," he said.

Although cases may have been thoroughly examined at the time, unanswered questions fuel cold case investigations, Cook said.

A different approach

After spending four years trying to find answers in the death of 15-year-old Loraine Zimmerman, Maryland State Police Sgt. Keith Wattenshaidt decided to try a different approach.

In 1988, Wattenshaidt appeared with a psychic on the "Unsolved Mysteries" television show. The segment resulted in a lot of telephone tips, but Zimmerman's killer has not been brought to justice.

The girl, wearing her South Hagerstown High School varsity jacket, was seen on April 6, 1984, walking in downtown Hagerstown from her aunt's house. Eight days later, her body was found 3.6 miles south of Boonsboro and about 70 yards south of Reno Monument Road, Ganley said.

Large pieces of cardboard had been placed over Zimmerman's body and weighted down by rocks, according to published reports.

Hewett said he has "a gut feeling" that a man he picked up on sexual assault charges around the time of Zimmerman's death may be a person worth investigating further.

A matter of time

Time cannot be wasted when dealing with a homicide case, said Hagerstown Police Department Lt. Richard Johnson, supervisor of the department's criminal investigations unit. The first 48 hours of a homicide investigation are critical, he said.

Western Maryland Regional Crime Lab supervisory forensic scientist Jeff Kercheval said detectives focus on compiling evidence in the first few days after a homicide and do not generally look at the evidence as a whole until the investigation begins to settle down.

A handful of the county's cold cases involve the discovery of bodies in advanced stages of decomposition. The body of John William Clark was pulled from the Potomac River after it had been in the water for more than five days; the body of Lisa Ann Ryder was found days after she last was seen; Zimmerman's body was found eight days after she was seen in downtown Hagerstown.

Kercheval said the first step in such a case is to identify the victim and try to get the time frame for his or her disappearance and death.

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