Police arrest fugitive posing as a lawyer

September 22, 1992|By David Simon | David Simon,Staff Writer Staff writers Amy Miller and William F. Zorzi Jr. contributed to this article.

The mystery man Carroll County police came to know as "John Doe" has lived a far more interesting life than such a bland moniker might imply. He was arrested yesterday and identified by police as a Missouri lawyer wanted for embezzling thousands from clients' estates.

Months after he first mystified police by failing to give his identity after being charged with impersonating a Minneapolis attorney, Maryland State Police yesterday rearrested Mr. Doe as Harold Paul Heitmann. A former prosecutor, he is wanted in St. Louis County for stealing $135,000 from estate accounts and then fleeing Missouri two years ago.

Since his disappearance in April 1990, the 54-year-old Mr. Heitmann has made the Top Ten Most Wanted list in the St. Louis area, where sightings of him have become so routine that police there began comparing him to Elvis, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Although he left a wife and three children behind in St. Louis, Mr. Heitmann apparently was caught as a result of his involvement with a 30-year-old Mount Airy woman, who became suspicious about her new boyfriend's past and hired a local private investigator. Informed that her beau was an impostor, she had the investigator turn over the information to authorities.

Mr. Heitmann settled in Carroll County as Bruce Donald Willis, a lawyer who had ostensibly moved here from Minneapolis. Under that name, he managed to get a birth certificate mailed to him in South Carolina from Minnesota.

Michael Mills, the private investigator retained by Mr. Heitmann's new girlfriend, tracked down the actual Mr. Willis in Minneapolis. VTC prominent partner in the law firm Popham Haik, the real McCoy wasn't happy to learn of his counterfeit.

After Mr. Mills went to authorities, Mr. Heitmann was arrested by police following a planned June 19 traffic stop, when he gave the false identification and was subsequently charged with impersonating an attorney and other misdemeanors.

The suspect soon acknowledged that he was not Mr. Willis; he did not say, however, who he was.

Having served most of his 90-day sentence in the Carroll County Detention Center for impersonating a lawyer, Mr. Heitmann was released Sept. 10 and returned to his office in Taylorsville only to be arrested again. The arrest came after FBI agents matched his photograph to that of the Missouri fugitive who disappeared more than two years ago.

Back in St. Louis, Mr. Heitmann was a well-known former prosecutor and lawyer who had run unsuccessfully for St. Louis County prosecuting attorney as a Republican in 1974. He served in a series of $40,000-a-year positions in county government until the early 1980s.

Mr. Heitmann opened his own law practice in 1982, but separated from his wife about four years ago. He disappeared two years later, the day before a court hearing at which he was to have presented a final accounting of a woman's estate that was plundered of thousands of dollars.

The discovery that Mr. Heitmann had apparently embezzled $135,000 from two estates came only after his sudden disappearance, which was initially regarded by his hometown Ellisville Police Department as a missing person case in which foul play was suspected.

Following the discovery of the plundered accounts, Mr. Heitmann was charged with two counts of theft and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. Investigators also began to suspect the disappearance was planned when they determined that Mr. Heitmann's last credit card purchases were for camping equipment.

In Maryland, Mr. Heitmann was successful at passing himself off as a Minneapolis native and attorney. He was capable of drawing up corporate legal documents and seemed knowledgeable in Maryland law.

His undoing came after he became romantically involved with Linda Richmond, who said she met "Mr. Willis" while conducting random interviews in a tavern for a Carroll Community College political science class project.

She met him there a few more times and said she was impressed by his intelligence and gentlemanly manners -- standing up, for example, when she would return to the table. He was "not the average guy you'd meet in that bar," she said.

"He is a perfect gentleman," she said last night. "He's very well-mannered. He has qualities that are not common in most men."

Ms. Richmond said Mr. Heitmann called her after his arrest, asking her to meet his son -- one of three grown children. "I am more at peace about this than before," she said. "He is not a bad person. His son regards his father in high esteem."

She also said that although Mr. Heitmann had lied to her in the past, "he has told me the truth since."

Maryland State Police eventually were able to link their mystery man to the outstanding missing person's report and warrant in Missouri based on information from a confidential source. The FBI agents faxed photographs of Mr. Heitmann to Maryland, and they matched those of Carroll's John Doe.

A Carroll detention center spokesman said Mr. Heitmann was being held there without bail last night, pending extradition hearings.

"Police here did a good job of investigation and their efforts paid off," Carroll County State's Attorney Thomas Hickman said last night, crediting a wanted poster, circulated by Maryland State Police, with bringing the attention of Missouri authorities to "John Doe." Sgt. Roger Melton, a supervisor in both the St. Louis County Police Department's Intelligence Unit and a multijurisdictional fugitive task force, echoed the praise for police efforts here.

"Everybody has wanted this guy for so long; now we can take him off our most wanted list," Sergeant Melton said last night. "We had reports he was in various places . . . in Kansas, in Canada. We ran down a lot of leads on him. We've put a lot of man hours into searching for him."

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