Dispute leaves 3 dead Man stabs wife, kills her mother, a neighbor, self

January 02, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

Harry Zellman was spending a quiet New Year's Eve at his fiancee's home in Essex when a terrified and bloodied neighbor ran up to the house, screaming that her husband had just stabbed her in the neck.

It was the beginning of a night of violence that left Mr. Zellman and two others dead, and the woman seriously wounded.

Hoping he could defuse the situation, Mr. Zellman, 46, walked toward the woman's home in the first block of Kingston Park Lane West. As he approached, the woman's husband fatally shot him in the chest with a shotgun, police said.

The gunman, Terry Gurtner, 31, had already shot and killed his mother-in-law on the front lawn, police said. Early yesterday, during a three-hour standoff with police, he fatally shot himself in the head inside his home.

"Harry could have turned his back and he would still be alive today," said Del Graves, father of Mr. Zellman's fiancee, Dee Huffman. "But that wasn't the way he did things. He was just trying to be a good Samaritan, and he paid for it with his life."

E. Jay Miller, a Baltimore County police spokesman, said the trouble started when Mr. Gurtner and his 45-year-old wife, Ida, were arguing over money at the kitchen table of their small blue waterfront home in Middle River.

Suddenly, Mr. Gurtner grabbed a knife, stabbed his wife in the neck, Mr. Miller said, then cut the face of his mother-in-law, Theresa Ida Hutson, 72, who also lived at the home. When his wife tried to call 911, Mr. Gurtner yanked the phone cord out of the wall.

Both women ran from the house, but Ms. Hutson was shot just outside the front door. Mr. Miller said she may have fallen down first.

Mrs. Gurtner reached the house where Mr. Zellman was visiting and called police. Mr. Zellman then started walking down the street but tried to retreat when he heard two gunshots. He was hit before he could turn around, Mr. Miller said.

Police got their first call from the Essex neighborhood at 9:15 p.m. Sgt. Ronald P. Stotler said officers found Mrs. Gurtner at the home Mr. Zellman was visiting.

She was taken by ambulance to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where she was listed in serious condition yesterday following surgery.

Officers found Mr. Zellman in the middle of Kingston Park Lane, suffering from a chest wound.

Paramedics unsuccessfully tried to revive him, and he was pronounced dead on arrival at Franklin Square Hospital.

Police then discovered Mrs. Gurtner's mother lying on the front lawn near the driveway. She had been shot once in the torso.

Sergeant Stotler said an autopsy performed yesterday revealed that Ms. Hutson's vital organs had been hit and that she most likely died within minutes of being struck. "The officers knew she was dead" but had to retreat because the armed suspect was still inside, Mr. Miller said.

The first officer to respond radioed for help. When tactical officers and hostage negotiators arrived, they surrounded the home and sealed off the neighborhood.

Police said they had no contact with Mr. Gurtner throughout the night. At 11:45 p.m., using protective shields, officers removed the woman's body.

At 12:30 yesterday morning, the tactical squad entered the home through an open kitchen door, finding Mr. Gurtner's body in a hallway. They recovered the shotgun and the bloodied kitchen knife.

Mr. Miller said he could not confirm reports from neighbors that Mr. Gurtner had been drinking. He did say that officers had been called to the home four times since Sept. 3, all for domestic disputes.

He said one incident last month involved the man pointing a rifle at a relative, possibly one of his older sons who lives nearby. No arrests were made on any of the police visits, he said, adding that family members "all had trouble with this guy."

Neighbors interviewed yesterday said they only knew the Gurtners as neighbors and were not aware of any marital problems.

Dee Huffman, who was to marry Mr. Zellman in April, did not want to talk to reporters. Her father, Mr. Graves, said Mr. Zellman had worked at the Aberdeen Proving Ground testing ammunition for 20 years and had a home in Harford County, though he spent much of his time at his fiancee's house.

Ben Craig, who lives four houses away, said he saw Mr. Zellman and Ms. Huffman about three hours before the shooting trying out a new 27-foot cabin cruiser on the Middle River.

Later, after his wife heard gunshots, he would see the man's body not far from his front door.

"We had just talked about how nice a day it was," Mr. Craig said. "I never thought that a few hours later I would see him lying dead in the street. . . . This is going to be hard to forget."

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