Man is acquitted in slaying of girlfriend's mother He remains a suspect in 2nd murder

October 07, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

Charlotte Lee Crass' nude body was found in the bedroom of her Orleans Street apartment, her face so badly bloodied that homicide detectives described it as the most horrific crime scene they had seen in years.

Patricia Jane Kaczynski's half-dressed body was found in her Dundalk living room, her throat slashed, her head nearly cut off.

The slayings took place about five years and five miles apart, and authorities believed they were done by the same man.

But yesterday Ronald E. Keihl was cleared of murder charges in Ms. Crass' 1987 fatal beating, though he remains a suspect in the Kaczynski slaying.

A Baltimore Circuit Court jury needed only half an hour to find Keihl not guilty of murdering Ms. Crass, who was his pregnant teen-age girlfriend's mother.

"There really wasn't what you could call any kind of smoking gun," said juror Thomas Ball, who added: "Just about everybody in the jury was convinced he wasn't an angel."

Meanwhile, Baltimore County authorities continue to try to find enough evidence to charge Keihl, who is serving a prison term for probation violations, in Ms. Kaczynski's 1992 slaying.

Baltimore prosecutors had struggled for years to build a case against Keihl in the Crass killing. Keihl was first indicted in July 1987, but the case was placed on the inactive docket in January 1988 after a key witness who reported being threatened by Keihl left the state. After the witness resurfaced late last year, Keihl, 27, of East Baltimore was charged again.

But prosecutor Althea Handy said she considered dismissing the case last week when still another witness, a friend of Keihl's who had been expected to describe a confession made to him, could no longer be found.

Another problem: The girlfriend, Tammy Maenner, had originally sided with Keihl, so her testimony on behalf of the state contradicted some of her earlier statements.

The case went to trial with the key witness, Mary Gensler, telling the jury that Keihl was the man who approached her at 4 a.m. on June 24, 1987, and asked for a light for his cigarette. Ms. Gensler identified Keihl by a scar on his forearm. She said she saw him ascend a rain spout and climb through a second-story window into Ms. Crass' apartment in the 2400 block of Orleans St.

Found in the apartment, along with Ms. Crass' body, was a pair of shorts containing hair that matched Keihl's.

Ms. Gensler, who said Keihl was wearing the shorts when she saw him, also testified that she felt threatened after Keihl stuck his head into her house and, with a belt wrapped around his neck, simulated a strangling.

Keihl's lawyer, Stephen Suser, said the threat never occurred and ridiculed the idea that Keihl would ask for a light and then go kill his girlfriend's mother.

"Would that be the action of a person who was going to go into the house and commit some sort of crime? Does that make any sense at all?" Mr. Suser asked the jury.

A prison spokeswoman said Keihl is assigned to the Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, where he is serving a 5 1/2 -year term for two counts of violating the terms of his probation stemming from storehouse breaking and entering convictions.

Baltimore County prosecutors are hoping they can build a case that would solve the Kaczynski murder.

Prosecutor Jason League said yesterday that Keihl is a suspect because a Dundalk man who was convicted of murder for driving a getaway truck told police Keihl went into the woman's house to commit a burglary.

The Dundalk man, David Wayne Couch, was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the killing. Ms. Kaczynski, 44, was killed Aug. 29, 1992, in her home in the first block of Liberty Parkway by an intruder who entered the home by breaking a pane of glass and turning a key that had been left in the deadbolt lock in the kitchen door, according to testimony in Couch's trial.

Couch, who claims police fabricated his confession, has appealed his conviction and sentence.

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