Silver Spring puzzles over double murder

February 23, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich and Kris Antonelli | JoAnna Daemmrich and Kris Antonelli,Staff Writers

On a quiet, tree-lined street in Silver Spring, shaken neighbors were still struggling yesterday to understand the deaths of Dorothy and George Bechtold, whose bodies were found after their son walked into a Florida police station and confessed he had killed them.

The youngest of the couple's five children, 23-year-old Brian Antonio Bechtold brought his Rottweiler dog named Ox when he walked into the police station in Port St. Joe, a town about 30 miles east of Panama City, and told Sgt. Timothy Hightower he wanted to turn himself in for murder.

"He said he was possessed by the devil and the devil made him do it," Sergeant Hightower said yesterday. "We talked for several hours at his request. He mentioned that he had been possessed for a while and five days before . . . he became religious and Jesus told him to turn himself in."

The young man told police that after the killings, he drove his father's blue 1987 Subaru station wagon to Jacksonville, Fla., then to Houston, where he dumped the shotgun he had bought %% from a store in the Silver Spring area. He watched as someone found the gun in the building where he left it and called authorities, Sergeant Hightower said. Before his surrender, Mr. Bechtold had been staying in the car in a campground in Mexico Beach, about six miles from Port St. Joe, the sergeant said.

Montgomery County police found the couple's bodies Friday afternoon in their locked, split-level brick home in the 1200 block of Green Forest Drive, in the Hillandale section of Silver Spring.

Police forced open the front door and discovered Dorothy Bechtold, 63, sitting on a living room chair in front of the television set, which was still playing. Her 65-year-old husband, George, was found lying on the kitchen floor. Both had been shot in the chest and were dead for more than a week, police said.

Neighbors described the son as a thin, clean-cut young man who spent most of his time alone with two Rottweilers. Though dedicated to his dogs -- one of which died and was buried in the backyard -- he was unsociable with people his age. After high school, he stopped playing basketball with boys on the block and became increasingly withdrawn, said a 17-year-old Springbrook High School student, who lives across the street from the Bechtolds.

Although the Bechtolds lived on the street for nearly two decades, even their closest neighbors did not know them well. They said the couple kept to themselves and participated even less in neighborhood affairs after Dorothy Bechtold, nicknamed "Dot," was diagnosed with breast cancer.

An invalid for several years, Mrs. Bechtold was recuperating but still had trouble breathing, neighbors said. When police found her body, she was attached to an oxygen machine. Her husband had worked at the U.S. Navy's Surface Weapons Center in Silver Spring before retiring, several neighbors said.

The Bechtolds traveled frequently and had just returned from a trip to Hawaii, neighbors said, explaining why they weren't surprised when the couple disappeared from sight and the trash cans sat at the curb for a week. The couple enjoyed square dancing, but rarely went to the neighborhood pool or other events in Hillandale, residents said.

The neighbors, who asked not to be named, said Brian Bechtold studied martial arts, earning a black belt and teaching at a small school in the Silver Spring area. After graduating from high school, he went to college for at least a semester. He also was said to have worked for a while as a delivery man for an Italian restaurant in Adelphi. His parents "spoiled him," buying him a car and letting him stay at home without working for years, one neighbor said. Others described him as "very private" and sometimes surly. He spent hours walking his dogs, often late at night, they said.

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