Excursion to Myrtle Beach never gets out of Baltimore

August 30, 1994|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Sun Staff Writer

Forty people thought they were headed for sunshine and palm trees early yesterday. But as the sky darkened, they were left holding their bags on a Baltimore sidewalk.

They said they were sad, angry and chagrined -- but also felt "conned" by a grandmotherly woman who arranged an excursion to Myrtle Beach that never happened.

Their money -- $285 a head -- was used to retire a debt the trip's organizer had amassed.

"I took my vacation time just to go to Myrtle Beach," said a disappointed Helen Mayo, 51, of West Baltimore, as she stood inside the Marlborough Apartments building in the 1700 block of Eutaw Place.

The would-be travelers waited in front of the high-rise apartment building from midmorning to early evening yesterday, waiting for a bus they were told would pick them up for the trip.

Ms. Mayo brought a pillow and high expectations to enjoy the fading summer. After learning there would be no trip, she said, "I'm going home to cry."

Added Marlene Garner, a retired educator from Northwest Baltimore: "The worst thing is that we're going to go home and face our families with shame."

The trip was organized by Shirley Jones, a resident of the Marlborough Apartments. For seven years, she said, she has organized trips to places such as Atlantic City and Niagara Falls. She said she received money for the Myrtle Beach trip from 36 people but admitted that she used it to pay a debt from a Niagara Falls trip last month.

Ms. Jones said she was $8,272 short, because of money owed to her by a business partner who arranges trips with her.

"The people paid me, but I didn't come up with the money," she said sadly as she sat in the kitchen of her apartment. "I'm not rejoicing over what happened. I thought we were going to be in Myrtle Beach."

Ms. Jones, a gray-haired 54-year-old, said she didn't intend to deceive or cheat her customers -- some of whom threatened her with violence, or called the police.

Officers came to the apartment, but took no action. They advised the customers to take civil action against Ms. Jones.

Edna Malone, one of Ms. Jones' friends, described her as a nice woman who was in over her head.

"I feel on her part that it's mismanagement," Ms. Malone said. "She was trying to be too nice and kind, and trying to give people discounts."

Althea Robinson, of West Baltimore, said she was out $570 that she had paid for herself and her husband, Melvin Robinson, to take the trip. She said she would fight to get her money back.

Lauren Deaver left her home in Wapinger Falls, N.Y., to pick up her mother in the Bronx. The pair then came to the apartment building to meet three other people for the trip.

"I came down to take my mother on vacation. This is our vacation together," an angry Ms. Deaver said as the group assembled in the apartment building's basement. "You don't expect a little gray-haired, granny-looking lady to con you."

Pat Johnson, of Dolfield Avenue in Northwest Baltimore, said she wants to make sure Ms. Jones is not allowed to arrange any more trips.

"We don't feel this lady should be able to do this to anybody," Ms. Johnson said. "She should be exposed."

Grady McAllen, 74, was one of the few people who did not lose money. He said he had signed up for the trip, but insisted that he would not pay until he saw the bus.

Mr. McAllen, who lives in the Marlborough Apartments, had only one complaint: "I had to take all my stuff back upstairs."

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