The Guilford murders

August 19, 1994

The recent murders in Guilford of an elderly couple who were respected physicians raised all the old fears that plague an ailing urban center like Baltimore. With the arrest of the couple's grandson, those fears must be re-examined.

Guilford, where Drs. Walter and Mary Loch lived for many years, is only minutes away from neighborhoods where poverty and drugs make crime a familiar companion. Their deaths inevitably prompted suspicions that drug-crazed, murderous thieves were invading the idyllic beauty of Guilford.

Charges brought against the Lochs' 30-year-old grandson suggest that none of the precautions being offered as solutions to crime in the neighborhood -- security systems, private patrols, street barricades -- would have saved their lives. Combined with what society is now learning about violence in the home, this crime may turn out to be another rude reminder that 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, and family members can inflict more harm than a street criminal.

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. And last September, a gang of violent robbers struck terror after a break-in and rape.

Even before these events, Guilford residents had agreed to foot the bill for a private security service to help prevent car thefts and burglaries. Their investment seems to have paid off; property crimes in the neighborhood have since decreased. 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," one neighbor was quoted as saying, "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. We all need to think about that -- especially city officials, who have agreed to propose street barricades for Guilford. And the police, who were confirming residents' worst fears by saying the murders resulted from an "apparent burglary" even as they homed 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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