On Nov. 16, a 26-year-old man from Miami was found in Northwest Baltimore, slumped behind the steering wheel of his car with a bullet in the back of his head.
The police described it as a typical drug killing and said that 11 bags of cocaine were found in the car.
The Miami man became the 262nd person slain in Baltimore this year, and despite the relative early date -- a week before Thanksgiving -- his killing meant that more people would be slain in Baltimore this year than last year.
Since that killing, 14 other people have been killed, and there are more than three weeks left in 1990.
A veteran homicide detective said yesterday that he expects the total number of murder victims in the city this year to push close to 300 -- following a trend of a rising death toll established over the past several years.
But unlike other cities, Baltimore probably will not set a murder record this year. The highest number of homicides in Baltimore was recorded in 1972, when 330 people were slain.
Five years later, in 1977, the number of homicides dropped almost by half, to 171, and remained fairly level during the early 1980s. The rate did not start to climb again until the escalation of drug violence noted in the last few years.
Police experts have no definitive reason for the sharp drop in the number of killings during the mid-1970s, but the prevailing theory among many experienced officers credits improvements in the emergency medical care that became available in Baltimore during the early 1970s.
It was during that time that the Maryland Shock Trauma Center was established, when inner-city facilities like the Johns Hopkins Hospital upgraded emergency care and when city ambulance crews improved their training and equipment.
What is now changing, the police believe, is not only the larger number of drug killings but the more lethal automatic weapons used in them.
Where once the cheap, single-shot Saturday Night Special was the typical homicide gun, the police say, sophisticated 9mm automatic handguns are now used in street drug killings.
"Money is so great in the drug trade that murder has become an acceptable option," said Dennis S. Hill, a police spokesman. "They don't settle their differences through tact and diplomacy."
Since 1987, when police officials began keeping tabs on the correlation between drugs and street violence, an estimated 50 percent of the slayings in Baltimore have been blamed on the drug trade.