Murders Bring 'Big City' Crime To Light In Quiet Town

THE OBSERVER

October 27, 1991|By Mark Guidera

At the funeral, the Rev. Paul J. Henry told the confused and sunken faces gathered at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, "I feel our community has been violated."

No one, perhaps, put into words better what so many struggled to say when they learned that Bessie Mitchell, 73, and her sister, Emily Hambry, 75, had been found murdered in broad daylight. A customer found their bodies at the gun and hunting suppliesstore they ran on a quiet street in Havre de Grace.

The sisters didn't put up a fight with their attacker. The thug took some cash and some guns. The unobtrusive sisters who were well-liked by neighbors certainly would have given away the store for their lives.

To a visitor and even many residents, the city by the Susquehanna River can seem far removed from the unbearable evil we hear about on the big city streets.

It's easy to think that the evil had just found its way here last Friday, crashing down the door of tranquility and safety some residents of the city by the river have come tothink they live behind.

But that is not true.

Havre de Grace, like so many small towns now, has had more daunting crime occurring than ever before.

And residents seem to have come to terms with that. After the murders, there was no flood of calls from residents to police wanting to know how they could best protect their homes, shops and families from the shadow of crime, though police will tell you the shadow is larger than they ever can recall.

"We are seeing more and more of the serious crimes; B and E's (breaking and enterings), theft, attempted murder . . . we just arrested six people for practically beating to death two men on the street," says Sgt. William Johnson, a 10-year veteran of the Have de Grace Police Department and head of its Crime Prevention Unit.

In Havre de Grace, veterans still walk the quaint streets proudly wearing their service caps and most residents know each other by sight, if not by name.

The city fathers look to the historic colonial structures which line the city's main streets and they look to the river as it flows to a meeting with Chesapeake Bay and they see the shine of friendly tourists and the money that they bring to the town.

But this is the same city where just two weeks ago police arrested and charged a young man with attempted murder after he pulled his car up next to a crowd of people standing on a street talking and then fired a rifle into the group. Amazingly, no one was killed or badly injured.

An argument started the whole thing, surmise police. Bad blood.

It's the everyday incidents likethe street-side shooting and the house getting knocked off for a TV that are the common talk of the common men and women on the streets of Havre de Grace these days.

Yes, they are talking of how someone -- bent on terror and ruin -- walked into the Sportsmen's Center and violently ended the unassuming lives of Bessie and Emily. But that was an isolated incident, and most residents believe it couldn't happento them.

Many Havre de Grace residents worry more if it's their homes or shops that will be burglarized next than if they'll be murdered in cold blood, says Sgt. Johnson.

"Most people worry about someone breaking into their homes. And they have reason to worry. They are stealing the stuff they can sell fast. VCRs, TVs, radios," he says."They break into homes and take. It's the drugs that have brought usthis. They sell all this stuff to raise money for the drugs."

Andguns, are they being stolen too?

"Oh yes, guns, too. Guns are a precious, precious item. They sell very fast on the street," says the sergeant.

Johnson surmises that the guns police believe were stolen from Bessie and Emily's shop have been sold already.

Maybe they have been sold to someone who wants a gun so they, too, can kill in the broad light of day.

As Jean L. Angelucci, a 63-year-old Havre de Grace resident told a reporter last Friday as city residents gathered to watch police at their grim work inside the store, "This isn't the Havre de Grace that I grew up in."

She's right. No small town is anymore.

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