Murderer of officer in '64 flees while on family visit

April 21, 1993|By David Michael Ettlin and Michael James | David Michael Ettlin and Michael James,Staff Writers Staff writer Rafael Alvarez contributed to this article.

Samuel Veney, whose Christmas murder of a Baltimore police sergeant in 1964 prompted one of the largest manhunts in city history, is again a fugitive -- this time charged with escaping while free on a family prison leave.

Originally sentenced to death, Veney won a commutation to life imprisonment in 1973 and has been on work release for more than a decade -- although he was not under consideration for parole, a state corrections spokesman said yesterday.

State police Cpl. J. Scott McCauley, the Division of Correction spokesman, said Veney was free on his 18th leave since winning "family status" two years ago. He failed to return Sunday night from a visit to his son in Towson.

"We are considering him dangerous," Corporal McCauley said. "He is a convicted murderer and a convicted cop-killer."

Veney, now 54, killed Sgt. Jack Lee Cooper, a 43-year-old father of two, after taking part -- with his brother, Earl Veney -- in the robbery of a Greenmount Avenue liquor store and the subsequent near-fatal shooting of Lt. Joseph T. Maskell.

The crimes prompted a massive search in which dozens of heavily armed officers bashed through the doors of some 300 homes -- "flying squad raids," as they were called -- without warrants or probable cause. The raids later brought a federal court order banning such a "wholesale invasion of privacy."

The first brother team to make the FBI's Most Wanted List, Sam and Earl Veney were found 3 1/2 months later, working in a zipper factory on Long Island in New York City.

Earl, sentenced to 30 years for the robbery and shooting, was found dead in prison in March 1976 -- a suicide by hanging, officials said.

Sunday's escape came as a surprise to Veney's surviving victim, the retired Lieutenant Maskell, now 68.

"I'm surprised that he would jeopardize a possible parole after serving so many years and being on work release," he said last night, recalling the crimes of 29 years ago and how he was gunned down by the Veneys.

"I don't care if he stays in there until the day he dies, but I'm surprised a man would risk parole by walking away from work release. I don't live with it [memory], it's been too many years for that. I'm fortunate to be alive and that's about it.

"I have no love for the bastard because he shot me in the back. I was shot by Earl and Sam, but they only tried [Sam] for Cooper's murder because that was a capital case. Poor Jack, I supervised him. He was a good friend of mine and a good person."

Sam Veney Jr., 32, of Meteor Court in Towson, said his father, who has been working for 10 years installing computer flooring for a Jessup company, was granted family leave once a month, and that he last saw him Sunday morning.

"It seemed like he had something on his mind, because he was doing a lot of walking," the son said.

He said his father never complained: "He was pretty strong about everything. I was young when it happened, 2 or 3 years old. . . . I always heard stories about it, I would run into people who knew my father, but I didn't know my father. I read about him in the library. I was in his weekends, that was about it."

Shirley Veney, the fugitive killer's sister, contended yesterday that Earl did not kill himself in Jessup, but was hung by guards. And she said she believes Sam was overdue for parole.

"Find out why they haven't paroled him," she said. "If they trust him to do work release for the last 10 years, why can't they parole him? He came in Sunday morning [at her home on Kirk Avenue] and came up to use the bathroom. I didn't speak to him. When I came down, he was going down the street."

Corporal McCauley said a prison officer talked to Veney on the telephone at 4:30 Sunday afternoon in a call to the son's home, reminding the convict that he had to be back at the Brockbridge Correctional Facility in Jessup by 7 p.m.

The spokesman said an inmate earns the right to family leave through good behavior, starting with 12-hour periods and gradually increasing. Veney, who the prison spokesman said "has maintained a good overall adjustment" in prison, was allowed the maximum time away -- 48 hours.

Despite that reward, Corporal McCauley said, "I'd doubt that he was going to be in line for a parole hearing. He was looking at being in prison for the rest of his life without being paroled."

He said it was not unusual for prisoners serving life terms to be assigned to prerelease institutions like Brockbridge, which are less-than-minimum security facilities.

"We have two lifers down at Eastern Pre-Release [Unit] who work at the Easton state police barracks. [Veney] has been [in prison] for nearly 30 years. They find historically that the older inmate does not take undue advantage. He's the minority case that fouled that theory up. The vast, vast majority fall in line with those rules. They ironically turn out to be a safer risk, in contrast to a McBee."

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