Crofton Mourns Criswell, Struggles With Crime Wave Community Feels Vulnerable To Violence

September 23, 1990|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff writer

The memorial service was to mourn Gwyn Dixon Criswell, but there was a message to all of Crofton in the pastor's words.

"This has had a profound affect on the community, not only because of this event but because of others over the past week," the Rev. Chris Holmes said. "We have lost an assumption of safety in Crofton. A raw nerve of vulnerability has been touched, which makes it all the more important for us to come together as a community."

The 300 family members, friends and neighbors who gathered at the Community United Methodist Church Thursday to pay their last respects to Criswell, who was found strangled a week ago in the woods behind the Crofton Library, sat in solemn silence.

They listened as three friends and a brother-in-law told stories of Criswell's life, which ended at age 41 when she went grocery shopping in Crofton Square last Sunday morning.

They heard how she walked her dog, Ace, up and down Eden Way, always pausing to talk to people also out for a stroll; how she once pulled a young nephew from a strong undertow at Cape May and of the neighborhood parties she used to throw in February.

As they spoke, Criswell's husband of 14 years, Ted, and her two sons, 20-year-old Ted Jr. and Bryan, sat stoically in the front row, watching as their friends choked back tears and spoke words of admiration for Gwyn.

"She loved this place," said brother-in-law Sam Criswell, who drove down from Allentown, Pa., in his eulogy. "It was more than the bricks and mortar, it was the neighbors and the folks."

At the end of the service, the Criswell men stood at the entrance to the church and individually thanked people on their way out, many of whom would return to their homes in this planned community of 16,000 middle-class professionals with a heightened sense of tension.

"We are in an age of vivid and senseless destruction," friend Rick Stewart had said from the pulpit. "We must never grow insensitive to its consequences."

That thought echoes through Crofton, which has been rocked by Criswell's murder and two rapes last week. Steven Gregory Anderson -- whom police describe as a drifter -- was charged Monday with killing Criswell and dumping her body in the woods behind a shopping center near the intersection of routes 3 and 424.

Police searched for six hours Monday before finding the partially nude body. Charging documents say Anderson, 29, at first denied any knowledge of Criswell, but then confessed to killing her.

Two days later, on Wednesday, police charged Stanley Glenwood Prout, 29, of no fixed address, with raping a woman who lived in Crofton Mews. Police say Prout followed the woman's roommate home from a bar and broke into her town house last Sunday morning.

The victim was bound and dragged to the basement, where she was raped and assaulted, police say.

Police are still investigating another rape that occurred Sunday morning in Crofton Mews. In that case, a woman was raped after being threatened with a knife by a man who broke into her town house. Police say the two rapes are not related.

Officials and residents interviewed say the community is not paralyzed by the week's events, but is stunned and concerned.

Crofton Police Sgt. Deborah French said she has been preaching safety to residents for years, but most have been lax about heeding her advice.

"Maybe they will listen to me now," she said.

Crofton is a community where neighbors throw block parties and demonstrate a concern for each other. Going out for a walk along tree-lined Crofton Parkway or through Crofton Park is an every-day occurrence. Going to the Basics food store -- where Criswell was headed when she was abducted and killed -- on a Sunday morning is common, especially for parents who have just dropped off their children for Sunday School.

"That could have been me," said Dorothy Barrett, who has lived off Route 424 for 10 years. "It is something any woman from any household could have been doing."

Barrett, who was on her way into the Crofton Library to pick up her two children, said she had given them strict instructions not to leave the library until she arrived. "I told them they were not allowed to come out," she said. "They asked if they could run to the K mart and get something and I said 'Absolutely not.' " Some residents interviewed said they have just now started locking their doors during the day, while they are home. Others said evening walks, which seem to be a tradition in town, could no longer be done alone.

Community leaders are getting serious about starting a neighborhood watch program; the topic will be discussed tomorrow at the Crofton Civic Association's regular meeting. "We will consider several proposals," said President Ed Dosek.

"People are as shocked as they can be," he said. "I think there is a general realization that life in Crofton is not going to be immune from such criminal action. There was a sort of feeling that because we were bounded by three highways, we were isolated."

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