Slayings of four women linked to different killers

March 19, 1995|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Michael James contributed to this article.

For several days last week, Baltimore police suspected the scariest of scenarios: One unknown man systematically preying on women and strangling them in a neighborhood north of the city's old, touristy Fells Point area.

Their fears intensified last Wednesday when a schoolboy chasing an errant football found the body of 27-year-old Cecilia Mosca outside Lombard Middle School, the fourth woman slain in a similar manner since 1993 within two square blocks.

But the situation took a twist yesterday as a squad of homicide detectives brought together to investigate a possible serial killer developed new information that could lead to multiple arrests in what now seem to be coincidental slayings.

"In all likelihood, these are unrelated homicides," said Lt. Wendell M. France of the homicide unit, adding that arrests were expected shortly. "As it stands now, we have three suspects who possibly are responsible for the killings."

Lieutenant France said police first suspected in November that a link might exist between the killings, when Glenice Cornish was found dead in a boarded-up, city-owned rowhouse across the street from the school -- the second body discovered there in seven months.

By Wednesday, detectives suspected that one person was targeting women -- some of them prostitutes and crack-cocaine addicts -- who frequented the streets just north and east of Fells Point.

That theory changed in the past two days as detectives gathered more information and interviewed prostitutes. "We learned quite a bit," Lieutenant France said.

The slayings occurred on the northern edge of the Perkins Homes public housing project and the southern edge of Washington Hill. Debris-strewn lots and boarded-up rowhouses are common in the two areas, nestled between the tourist draws of Little Italy restaurants, Fells Point bars and nightclubs and Butchers Hill rowhouses.

Police have raided the Perkins Homes housing projects for drugs numerous times in recent years and in August broke up what they described as a Dominican Republic-based cocaine organization with ties to a Central American drug cartel.

Most prostitutes who work parts of Southeast Baltimore, police say, ply their trade around Patterson Park -- on the Eastern Avenue and the Baltimore Street sides, and along Broadway.

Lt. R. Jay Fisher of the Southeastern District said that "it would be quite out of the ordinary to find someone soliciting" in the area of the slayings. Some of the victims likely were picked up by men a few streets to the west and taken to where they were killed, he said.

Common killer suspected

Police believe that the two women found in the abandoned rowhouse at 203 S. Bethel St. were killed by the same person, Lieutenant France said. Both were found in the same room and strangled.

The first of those two victims was Queen Esther Watson, 29, whose body was found last May 18. Two weeks earlier, she had been given a suspended jail term after being convicted of prostitution. Court records also showed a 1992 conviction for drug possession and a 1991 charge for assault with intent to murder, placed on the inactive docket.

Last Nov. 19, the body of Ms. Cornish, 38, was found in the same rowhouse. Two months earlier, she had been charged with prostitution, but she died before her trial.

The two other cases, police now believe, are unrelated.

In the first of those, on Oct. 27, 1993, a police officer found the body of 46-year-old Mary Ann Fisher under a bed in her house in the 200 block of Herring Court, one block from the Bethel Street slaying scene. Police said she was not a prostitute.

She had been beaten and strangled with a telephone cord the day after her birthday. Police said a witness saw three men carry a large floor-model television out of the house hours before the body was discovered, and detectives originally listed robbery as the motive.

Then, last Wednesday, Ms. Mosca's body was found in the stairwell on the Pratt Street side of the school, in distant view of the abandoned Bethel Street rowhouse. Police said she had been beaten and strangled. Trash had been piled on top of her body.

Lieutenant France said all four slayings contain many similarities, including their proximity, method and patterns of drug use among the victims. Police would not divulge other details that made them suspect initially that the cases were related.

Detectives also would not divulge the new information they obtained Friday night and yesterday that altered their view of the cases and led them to suspect that the killings were committed by three people acting independently.

Police hit the streets during the weekend, talking to prostitutes, to warn them and to gather intelligence.

"We don't want the prostitutes to go underground," Lieutenant France said Friday. "We don't want people to think that there is a guy running up and down the street picking up people and killing them every day. That certainly is not the case."

Few other details could be learned about the victims during the weekend. Two listed several addresses, now abandoned rowhouses described by neighbors as flophouses that prostitutes frequent.

Ms. Fisher's family members could not be located, and relatives of Ms. Mosca in Northeast Baltimore did not want to talk yesterday.

'A smart girl'

Jennifer Rutledge, 26, who attended Hamilton Middle School with Ms. Mosca, said yesterday that her childhood friend had fallen on rough times. She had been caring for her own 6-year-old son and her ex-boyfriend's 7-year-old daughter.

Ms. Rutledge said that last year she got Ms. Mosca a job as a bartender in Dundalk, but it only lasted a week. She last saw her friend, she said, several weeks ago at a social services office getting Medicaid for her son.

"We were so bad, always running around and stuff," Ms. Rutledge recalled of her school days with Ms. Mosca. "She was a smart girl. I don't know what she was into recently."

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