The murders in Guilford: Unthinkable

August 16, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

It strains human credulity to think that a husband and wife could be found murdered on Stratford Road in the Guilford neighborhood in North Baltimore.

On a sunny August afternoon, just 24 hours after the slain bodies of Walter and Mary Loch were found in their imposing residence facing Sherwood Gardens, the affluent neighborhood looked as calm and serene as ever.

Only the police vehicles, uniformed officers, a bus full of police academy recruits and the Box 414 lunch wagon seemed discordantly out of place.

This hideous crime should not have happened anywhere. But in this oasis of physical perfection, lushly clipped and edged lawns shaded by mature locust and sycamore trees, the event was all the more shattering.

Yesterday, residents walked their Airedales and golden retrievers past the corner of Stratford Road and Greenway. Some stopped to talk with each other, to utter words of disbelief and of comfort. Teen-age residents rode their bikes across the lawns and around the zinnia beds of Sherwood Gardens, the greensward maintained by the neighborhood.

Even the sermon topic posted on the sign board outside the nearby Second Presbyterian Church carried an eerie and prophetic message. The sermon was on "Violence."

I have always applauded the Guilford neighborhood. Residents have generous community pride. Yes, their homes are large and occasionally ostentatious. The tax assessors are well aware of the value of the walnut libraries, the slate roofs, the Georgian staircases, the Cotswold dormers and butlers' pantries.

Yet Guilford has never walled itself off. There is an open confidence here. Homes are not often fenced. The hedges and landscaping seem more planned to screen garbage cans than to shout, "Keep out!" Main streets enter and exit these blocks without benefit of a guard's house.

And then there is Sherwood Gardens, privately maintained by the Guilford residents. By keeping up such a large park, one that invites visitors, the community seemed to say it was aware this was one of the residential glories of Baltimore.

True, Sherwood Gardens was primarily for the use of the people who lived around it and paid annual assessments to keep it up. At the same time, no orderly person was ever chased out for walking through the lawns. It was a private park where the public welcome mat was never put away.

Come spring, when the tulip beds came into their own, hundreds of visitors descended on the very block where the Lochs were found, to view the show of color. And, this summer, those same flower beds are planted with displays of cosmos, marigold and other bright summer annuals.

The block where the elderly couple was found slain is the kind of street photographed for Chamber of Commerce promotions geared toward the best of the affluent lifestyle in Baltimore.

When the National Geographic printed an article on Baltimore years ago, it used Sherwood Gardens for a photo. In a city of block after block of brick rowhouses and asphalt streets, Stratford Road was the exception.

It was, by the standard of real estate values and enlightened community planning, an example of the uppermost Baltimore can offer, a lovely spot made all the more mellow by the passage of nearly 75 years.

It is only about a 12-minute walk from Stratford Road -- south on Greenway to Chancery Road -- where attorney Marvin Cooper was gunned down by a robber in May. Two weeks earlier, and just around the corner on Oakenshawe Place, William H. McClain, 77, a retired Johns Hopkins University professor of German language, died as the result of head injuries when he fell outside his home during a robbery.

All of these horrible crimes took place not far from Greenway, the street in Baltimore that is synonymous with enormous houses, gracious living and wealth.

This is not a drug-plagued zone in a part of Baltimore the police department wished it did not have to patrol. This is a neighborhood of top-echelon Hopkins professionals, judges, lawyers, bankers and business executives.

I wonder how many of us, on a visit to the tulips of Sherwood Gardens, have parked a car just outside the Lochs' home on a sunny spring day? Think about it.

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