Elderly sisters slain in robbery Guns are taken at Havre de Grace sporting goods store

October 19, 1991|By Samuel Goldreich and Roger Twigg | Samuel Goldreich and Roger Twigg,Sun Staff Correspondents John Rivera and Ann LoLordo of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

HAVRE DE GRACE — The first name of a friend of Bessie Mitchell, the Havre de Grace sporting goods store owner shot to death Friday, was misspelled in The Sun yesterday. His name is Don Forsythe.

The Sun regrets the error.

HAVRE DE GRACE -- Two elderly sisters were shot to death here yesterday, gunned down in a midday robbery of the sporting goods store their family had operated for more than two decades in this historic riverfront town.

The victims, Bessie Mitchell, a widow of about 70, and her 75-year-old sister, Emily E. Hamby, were found dead on the floor of the Sportsman's Center about 12:45 p.m. by a customer, according to state police.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

During the robbery, a glass gun case was broken into and "several" weapons stolen, said Lt. Roy Neigh, a state police spokesman. An unspecified amount of cash also was taken from the register.

As of last night, police had no suspects in the shooting -- the first double murder Havre de Grace police could recall. Police would not say how many times the women had been shot, pending an autopsy by the state medical examiner.

There was no indication that the women resisted or provoked the attack. "These were two old ladies that couldn't hurt anybody," said Warner Taylor, a nephew of Mrs. Mitchell's late husband, Emerson. "I doubt very seriously if Aunt Bess ever even fired a gun. She wasn't a gun enthusiast even to the point of going out hunting."

Although the store had been robbed of guns twice in recent months, police said this was the first incident in which a store employee was confronted by holdup men.

It was the second time in little more than a month that a Central Maryland gun store operator has been shot and killed in a robbery. On Sept. 12, the owner of a gun shop on Belair Road in Baltimore was killed and another man seriously wounded during a robbery. Nine people were charged in the incident; one is still at large.

Police said last night it was too early to say whether this robbery was related to the earlier one.

There have been 56 burglaries or robberies of licensed gun dealerships in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia so far this year, involving more than 1,000 weapons stolen, said Special Agent David C. Troy of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

At the Sportsman's Center, Mrs. Mitchell and her sister had been fixtures ever since Mrs. Mitchell's husband died last year. Mr. rTC Mitchell had operated the sporting goods business at the corner of Legion and Otsego streets for at least 25 years. Before that, the store was in downtown Havre de Grace, friends and family said. It was a store frequented by sportsmen who would stay and chat with Mr. Mitchell. And Mr. Mitchell was the kind of proprietor who would give a neighborhood kid a baseball glove or fishing rod and worry about payment later, friends and neighbors said.

Once her husband died, Mrs. Mitchell asked her sister, Mrs. Hamby, a longtime divorcee who lived in Aberdeen, to help out at the store. Mrs. Mitchell often passed the time playing solitaire.

There was one other store employee, a man in his 20s, whom police refused to identify yesterday. The man, who police said sometimes slept at the store overnight, was not in the Sportsman's Center at the time of the shooting.

Although police said the man was not a suspect in the shootings, they

did search his truck -- a faded GM Sierra that was parked on the store's lot. Police found "several handguns" in the truck, said Sgt. William Johnson, a Havre de Grace police inspector. Police said the man owned the guns, but would not say if the weapons were legally registered.

Throughout the afternoon, the corner on which the Sportsman's Center is located was abuzz with activity. Police had cordoned off the blue cinderblock store with yellow evidence tape. More than a dozen police cars from three law enforcement agencies jammed the store parking lot. Baltimore and Washington TV crews with satellite dishes took over the grassy front yard of a florist shop across the street, while state troopers ferried fast food from a nearby McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken to their colleagues inside the store.

Town residents stood on all four corners of the intersection watching the events unfold. Several stood within 20 feet of a side window of the store that had been punctured by two bullets and through which the blue-clad body of one of the victims could be seen. State police eventually taped a red tarp across the window.

"When you see it on TV, you realize the violence of it. But when friends and family die in such a manner, it's so devastating," said Eddie Fuller, a 27-year-old neighbor.

"This isn't the Havre de Grace that I grew up in," said Jean L. Angelucci, a 63-year-old neighbor. "It's pretty sad, but you just don't know anymore. What are you going to do? You can't just stay in the house all the time."

Richard C. Waller, who had lived next door to the Mitchells in Havre de Grace for the past 15 years, described Mrs. Mitchell as an "independent, scrappy woman."

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