Two slain in Catonsville barbershop Victim's son rejects robbery as motive

November 29, 1992|By Frank Lynch and Glenn Small | Frank Lynch and Glenn Small,Staff Writers Staff writer Kris Antonelli contributed to this article.

A lone gunman who walked into a crowded Catonsvill barbershop early yesterday and opened fire, killing the shop's owner and the customer whose hair he was cutting. A second customer was critically wounded, Baltimore County police said.

James Ernest Brodie, 58, who had operated barber shops in the area for 30 years, died at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center shortly after the 6 a.m. attack.

The man in the chair, Michael Selwyn Peters, 20, of the 4400 block of Kathland Avenue in Woodlawn, was dead at the scene, police said.

"It seemed like they wanted the man in the chair and my father was in the line of fire," said Troy Brodie, the victim's son, who discounted early police reports that his father had died in an armed robbery.

The younger Mr. Brodie said that there were seven or eight people in the shop at the time of the shooting and that the gunman ordered the occupants to move to the back of the building.

But he opened fire before they could comply.

Police, who provided few details about incident, said that the lone gunman ran off after the attack.

Early yesterday, police said the robbery may have been the motive for the shooting because an Amoco gas station next to Mr. Brodie's shop was held up shortly before midnight.

Police would not rule out the possibility that the same man was responsible for both.

But the younger Mr. Brodie disputed that theory.

"I know for a fact that nothing was taken" from the barbershop cash drawer, Troy Brodie said, or from the jewelry business that he operated from a back room of the barbershop.

He said that 14-carat gold jewelry in his shop area was untouched.

The second customer remained in critical condition at Shock Trauma, and police would not disclose his identity.

The elder Mr. Brodie, a retired Baltimore County School custodian, had operated the shop at this location for several years, his son said.

Neighbors and relatives said the shop was a neighborhood gathering place, where people would come to talk or watch TV even if they weren't getting their hair cut.

"He opened at 6 every day," said Troy Brodie, but he opened an hour early yesterday because he had been closed for the Thanksgiving holiday and wanted to accommodate customers.

Valerie Ballard, a tax consultant who did the shop's books and whose office is next door to the barbershop, said Mr. Brodie was "a real model for the community."

She, too, did not think it was a robbery.

"You don't rob a barber shop in the morning when there is no money there," she said.

"Someone knew that person was going to be in the chair, and Mr. Brodie got caught in the cross-fire."

The killings shocked and angered neighbors in the quiet commercial area.

Bill Cook, who runs an instrument repair shop across the street and said he had known Mr. Brodie for 30 years, described the barber as "a hard-working, regular type individual who was well-liked by everyone."

"It's such a shame when a man spends all his life working hard and some clown comes in and does something senseless," he said.

A few hours after the shooting, three youths stood outside the tan one-story building that housed the barbershop where they had frequently gotten haircuts.

Sean Bacon, 15, and his two cousins, Terrell and Aaron Holly, ages 11 and 8 respectively, described Mr. Brodie as a kindly man who was popular with children.

In Woodlawn, a neighbor of Mr. Peters expressed shock at the young man's death.

"Michael was not one to hang out" and "never was in any kind of trouble," said Sherman Jackson, who lives across the street from the victim's family.

He described the victim as a quiet young man.

The incident in the barbershop was one of two fatal attacks reported in Baltimore County overnight.

In another incident, shortly before midnight Friday, two men broke into an apartment in the 6600 block of English Oaks Road in Towson and killed 34-year-old Ralph Joseph Spencer with a handgun.

An unidentified woman in the apartment was also shot. She was flown to Shock Trauma, where she was in critical condition with a head wound.

Police said an argument ensued before the assailants shot and killed Mr. Spencer, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police have no suspects.

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