Murder in Guilford

August 19, 1994

An elderly couple, accomplished and respected doctors, are brutally murdered in an affluent city neighborhood. The instant reaction raises all the old fears that plague an ailing urban center like Baltimore. Many of those fears are racial, and the lovely homes of Guilford, where Drs. Walter and Mary Loch lived, are only minutes away from poor, largely black neighborhoods where poverty and drugs make crime a familiar companion. Were drug-crazed, murderous thieves invading the idyllic beauty of Guilford?

The arrest of the Lochs' 30-year-old grandson, now charged in the crime, is in one sense reassuring -- these apparently were not random deaths and racial suspicions were unjustified. But the arrest is a telling lesson about the fears spawned by crime. Security systems, private patrols and street barricades may be effective against marauding thieves. But none of those precautions apparently would have saved the Lochs.

This crime is a rude reminder that the biggest dangers do not always lurk "out there," in mean and drug-infested inner city streets. Sometimes home can be the most dangerous place there is.

Even so, no one should underestimate the apprehension these murders raised in Guilford and other North Baltimore neighborhoods. The Loch murders brought the year's total for a small place like Guilford to three. In May, a respected 45-year-old lawyer was gunned down in an apparent robbery attempt on a Guilford street a block from his home. Two weeks earlier, in nearby Oakenshawe, a 77-year-old retired Hopkins professor died after a robbery attempt on his front porch. In Guilford last year, a gang of violent robbers struck terror in many residents after a break-in and rape.

Even before these events, Guilford residents agreed to foot thbill for a private security service, and property crimes have since decreased in the neighborhood. Yet the fight against crime is as much a matter of attitudes as of statistics, and nothing destroys one's sense of safety as effectively as an "apparent burglary" in which two elderly people are bludgeoned to death.

"Sure I'm apprehensive," a neighbor said. "They couldn't get much closer, could they?" Now a "they" has been arrested, and the arrest turns the fearful vision of "they" on its head. All of us need to think about that -- especially city officials, who have agreed to erect street barricades in Guilford, and the police, who confirmed residents' worst fears by saying the murders resulted from an "apparent burglary" even as they honed in on the grandson.

However one looks at it, these brutal deaths and the subsequent arrest are tragic, for the family and for the community. They also point out that, while barricades and alarms can alter the ambience of a community, they can't keep evil at bay.

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