Poems reveal slain woman's sensitivity

January 08, 1995|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writer

A 41-year-old Ellicott City woman, whose violent slaying prompted a national search for her estranged husband, was an introverted poet who dedicated her life to her children and expected a bright new year without her spouse, friends said.

Shirley Scott Harney's fractured and bullet-ridden body was found by police outside her home in the 5000 block of Brampton Parkway Dec. 26.

Her husband was in custody last night in Charlotte, N.C. His sons were found unharmed.

Neighbors said they knew little about Mrs. Harney. But in quiet conversations, a brief smile, her volunteer work and her writing, she would reveal fragments of her personality.

"She seemed quiet, but she had a really quick wit," said Deborah Harvey, who often chatted with Mrs. Harney as they waited with their children at the school bus stop. "She had a great sense of humor. She really cracked me up."

While other mothers huddled to discuss their children, Mrs. Harney would often "stand on the side with a half-smile," Ms. Harvey said.

Mrs. Harney's two boys, Paul, 10, and Ryan, 8, brought her joy. "She was absolutely devoted to her children," Ms. Harvey said. "I never heard her speak a harsh word about them."

During the past school year, Mrs. Harney volunteered as a tutor at Worthington Elementary School, the school her sons attended.

Mrs. Harney, who worked as a legal secretary for a Baltimore law firm, studied English and psychology at Muskegon (Mich.) Community College and Grand Valley State College in Allendale, Mich., before heading to Maryland in 1979 for graduate school.

Her former professors said poems she wrote for her master's thesis in English provided clues about her perspective and life's experiences.

Her writings at College Park in 1979 and 1980 suggested inner turmoil, said Roderick Jellema, a retired College Park professor who had taught Mrs. Harney creative writing classes in her hometown two consecutive summers in the mid-1970s.

When he met his former student again in Maryland, he said, a rift with her family was wide enough that Mrs. Harney's mother once called him to inquire about her daughter's whereabouts.

The months of conflict were possibly over the family's wish for Mrs. Harney to pursue a career as a concert pianist, Mr. Jellema said. She rejected offers of music scholarships, he said, because "she didn't like competing."

Mrs. Harney submitted a collection of 35 poems called "The Thoughts of Giants and Other Poems" for her thesis in 1980. Reed Whittemore, a retired University of Maryland professor who approved the thesis, called the poems "a tantalizing strangeness of vision."

One poem, titled "Note to the Woman, Crossing against Traffic Heading toward the Laundromat, who has the Look that says, 'Hit Me,' " reads in part: "Oh, I've been hit, hard pressed, taken to the cleaners, through the wringer, you name it, there's no clean word for it."

"She had a lot of inner torment," Mr. Jellema said.

pTC Other poems showed "she was very thoughtful and sensitive," Mr. Whittemore said.

But, he said, when 500 copies of the collection were printed in 1980, "they just disappeared." A few people believe Mrs. Harney took the books because she feared widespread scrutiny of her work, he said.

"She was a shy person," Mr. Jellema said. "There was always something mysterious about her. But the people who got to know her liked her well.

Mrs. Harney rarely associated with neighbors after she moved to Ellicott City, nor did her husband, Daniel, whom she met while in the Washington area.

Mr. Harney, a financial administrator at Westinghouse Corp., was set to graduate from University of Baltimore law school this spring.

The couple, who lived at their Ellicott City home for four years, could occasionally be overheard arguing inside their home, neighbors said. Last spring, they separated.

In September, Mrs. Harney started work as a legal secretary at a Baltimore law firm. She had passed a 90-day probationary period at the job in December. Meanwhile, she and her husband, who moved to Owings Mills, had been discussing a divorce, police say.

According to police, Mr. Harney picked up their sons from the Brampton Hills home the afternoon of Dec. 26. After 9 p.m. that day, police say, a man armed with a handgun broke in through a window and shot and killed Mrs. Harney and injured her male friend.

Mrs. Harney was forced outside and was struck by a car driving away from the scene, police say.

Mr. Harney was picked up by Charlotte police on a tip that resulted from a promotional spot for the Fox Television show "America's Most Wanted" at halftime of the San Francisco 49ers-Chicago Bears football game. The Harney case was featured on the show last night.

Mr. Harney has been charged by Howard County police in his wife's death.

Friends put flowers on Mrs. Harney's doorstep last week in her memory, a neighbor said.

The Woodlawn man wounded in the shooting said, "She thought it was going to be a great year. Things were looking up for her. She thought the worst was over."

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