Slaying suspect arrested leaving Towson church

February 03, 1992|By Michael James

An article in The Sun Monday incorrectly described the marital status of murder victim Barbara E. Halsey. At the time of her death, she was married to James V. Halsey.

The Sun regrets the error.

A fugitive wanted in the killing of a Charles Village woman last March was arrested by federal and city authorities yesterday as he stepped out of a Towson church, where he had attended numerous services in the last six months under an assumed name, police said.

Two FBI agents grabbed Mohammad Biglari, 48, who had been on the run from authorities, as he walked out of the Central Presbyterian Church at 10 a.m.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Pastors notified police that Mr. Biglari was attending the morning sermon.

Known to church members only as "David," an Iranian immigrant who had said he was interested in converting from Islam to Christian thinking, Mr. Biglari is charged with first-degree murder in the March 31 death of Barbara E. Halsey.

Ms. Halsey, a hospital secretary and a divorced mother of two, was found shot and stabbed to death in her third-floor apartment in the 2800 block of North Calvert Street. Mr. Biglari was a first-floor resident of the building and an acquaintance of Ms. Halsey, said city homicide Detective Michael G. Crutchfield.

Police charged Mr. Biglari with murder shortly after the killing but were unable to track him down. During the past seven months, Mr. Biglari was believed to have left the state several times and gone to unknown destinations, Detective Crutchfield said.

Investigators from the FBI contacted pastors at the church, located in the 7300 block of York Road, last week and told them they had reason to believe Mr. Biglari had been attending services there, said the Rev. Dr. John Murray Smoot, pastor emeritus.

"He's been coming here off and on, and I would describe him as very quiet and secretive," Dr. Smoot said. "Lately he'd been wearing a heavy beard. He would show up a few Sundays in a row, then miss a few."

The agents waited there in vain Wednesday, watching Dr. Smoot show slides to church members of his recent trip to Scotland -- a show that Mr. Biglari did not attend. The agents left a beeper phone number with the pastors and asked them to call if they saw Mr. Biglari.

At 8:30 a.m. yesterday, during a sermon about marital relationships that was attended by about 400 people, one of the clergy men spotted the suspect and alerted authorities, said the Rev. Jerome D. Cooper, associate pastor.

"The police had the outside of the church pretty much staked out and they got him without any trouble," Mr. Cooper said.

Andrew Manning, an FBI spokesman, said federal authorities were involved in Mr. Biglari's capture because of his fugitive status as a suspect who crossed state lines. The suspect told police he had been working as a used-car salesman.

Dr. Smoot said Mr. Biglari was not a member of the church, but, as an infrequent attendee of sermons and other events, he was (( well accepted.

Mr. Biglari invited an elderly church couple to his apartment in the 4100 block of Duane Avenue in South Baltimore, serving them an Iranian home-cooked meal, Dr. Smoot said.

"Right before his arrest, one of the single women in the church invited him over for dinner. She didn't know the FBI was waiting outside to get him," Dr. Smoot said. "She was doing it as an act of thoughtfulness for him because she thought he seemed lonely."

An associate pastor quickly warned the woman in private that "she had better forget about dinner plans," Dr. Smoot said.

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