A 19-year-old Harford County man was charged yesterday in the slayings of two elderly women during a robbery at their Havre de Grace sporting goods store in October, state police said.
Kenneth Robert Brodt of Creswell, located just south of Bel Air, was charged with obstruction of justice and two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Bessie Urban Mitchell, 73, of Havre de Grace and Emily Urban Hamby, 75, of Aberdeen. They were gunned down Oct. 18 during a midday robbery at a store their family had operated for two decades.
Last night, as he stood in shackles outside a Harford County court commissioner's office awaiting a bail hearing, Mr. Brodt proclaimed his innocence. "I have no idea why they arrested me," Mr. Brodt said.
Commissioner John Blades later ordered him held without bail pending a review hearing Monday, and Mr. Brodt was taken to the Harford County Detention Center.
Also charged in the case were the suspect's father, Ronald Howard Brodt, 44, a life insurance salesman who works out of his home, and Travis Leon Everist, 27, who rents a basement apartment in the Brodts' house and has worked for Mr. Brodt.
They were charged with obstruction of justice yesterday and released on their own recognizance.
The elderly sisters' slayings stunned the historic riverfront town and led to a three-month investigation by state troopers and Havre deGrace police.
A break in the case came Thursday, when a man called the state police barracks in Bel Air to say he was buying a handgun and wanted to learn whether it had been stolen, said state police spokesman Capt. Johnny Hughes.
The caller, who did not identify himself, provided the serial number of a handgun. When the duty officer ran the number through a computer, he found that the gun had been stolen from the Sportsman's Center in Havre de Grace.
The officer transferred the call to Tfc. Jeffrey McCormack, who was investigating the case. Trooper McCormack, who was familiar with Ronald Brodt, recognized the caller's voice as that of the elder Mr. Brodt, the police spokesman said.
The trooper told the caller that he should buy the weapon because it had been stolen and that he would be reimbursed after he brought it into the barracks. However, the caller said that he did not want to get involved and hung up.
State police obtained a search-and-seizure warrant for Mr. Brodt's house yesterday and recovered the handgun, Captain Hughes said.
Police also went to a house in Edgewood Thursday night and recovered two handguns from a man who said he had been given them by the younger Brodt for safekeeping. The police said they were convinced that the younger Mr. Brodt alone had committed the robbery of the sporting goods store and shot the two women.
Last night, Kenneth Brodt claimed that he found the guns in a field about a month ago as he was riding in a four-wheel-drive vehicle with Mr. Everist.
He took three of the guns and Mr.Everist took two guns, he said.
He acknowledged that his father had called the state police because "my dad wanted to know if the guns were stolen." He said his father had agreed to bring the guns to the barracks the next day.
The suspect said that when he got home Thursday night, plainclothes officers were there talking with his father. "We volunteered to go down to the station. They told us everyone would go home after that," he said.
But he said he spent the night at the Bel Air state police barracks and was questioned all day yesterday.
He also said that he had been in the Havre de Grace gun shop before. "When I was little, I went to the gun shop with my dad once," he said, but claimed not to have been there recently -- "not in the last year, not that I recall."
The 2800 block of Henley Drive, where the Brodt house is located, is a narrow gravel road lined with small bungalow-type houses and house trailers. There are no streetlights.
The Brodt home is a ranch house with a basement, surrounded by a white wood-post fence with wire mesh and a gate in the front. Neighbors said a large Rottweiler often roams the yard.
The neighbors -- none would give their names, fearing reprisals -- also said the family has long been a source of trouble. One man said Mr. Brodt's boys --another son is serving a prison sentence for armed robbery -- "used to terrorize the neighborhood before his younger son got arrested."
He said the father "had this strange attitude that laws were for other people." Mr. Brodt intimidated many people in the neighborhood, the neighber said, "and that's the way he likes it."
Mr. Brodt's other son, Ronald Howard Brodt Jr., was arrested in 1987 with another youth and later imprisoned for a series of robberies in Aberdeen in which a toy handgun was used.
Gordon Mitchell of Havre de Grace, nephew of the slain Bessie Mitchell, said last night that he was pleased with the arrests.
"I'm most satisfied and relieved that they've apprehended the culprit," Mr. Mitchell said. "I'm sure that the town of Havre de Grace is very much relieved. . . . I was afraid that if too much time went by, it would become one of those unsolved murders."