Man accused of hiring hit man to kill fiancee Police say he thought he would benefit from her insurance policy

January 30, 1996|By Peter Hermann and John Rivera | Peter Hermann and John Rivera,SUN STAFF

A Pasadena man was charged yesterday with hiring a hit man for $20,000 to kill his fiancee during a staged robbery, all in hopes of reaping a financial windfall, according to Baltimore police and the victim's relatives.

But the scheme that left Teresa McLeod dead and the suspect wounded Friday night quickly unravelled as city police investigated several discrepancies in the man's account.

Ironically, although police and relatives said the suspect, Robert Harris, 23, hoped to cash in on a life insurance policy, the victim's mother said yesterday that the $150,000 policy was intended to benefit the victim's 9-year-old son.

Police yesterday arrested Mr. Harris, of the 1000 block of Tennant Harbour, at his lawyer's office in downtown Baltimore and charged him with first-degree murder.

The alleged hit man, Russell Raymond Brill, 22, of Arbutus had been arrested Sunday night and also charged with murder.

Police charge that Mr. Harris hired Mr. Brill earlier this month to kill Teresa McLeod, 27, on Joh Avenue in Southwest Baltimore.

Police said Mr. Harris even supplied the shooter with the weapon, a 9 mm Glock semiautomatic handgun that was found yesterday hidden in a cemetery.

Ms. McLeod was shot repeatedly in the back and several more times in the head after she fell to the ground near a 1989 Ford Taurus. Mr. Harris was shot once in the thigh.

"I think I knew in my heart from the time I heard that she was dead that this was planned," said Barbara Arthur, the victim's mother.

As his bride-to-be lay dead in the street, Mr. Harris, who is white, dialed 911 on his car phone and told a dispatcher that he and his girlfriend had just been robbed and shot by a black male wearing a camouflage jacket and black and white pants.

The slaying has striking similarities to the 1989 Charles Stuart case that inflamed racial tensions in Boston. Mr. Stuart fatally shot his pregnant wife and wounded himself in a robbery hoax. He called police from his car phone and said a black man was responsible.

Months after the slaying, Mr. Stuart apparently jumped from a bridge and was found dead the day after his brother implicated him.

Baltimore Detective Darryl Massey, one of three investigators in the McLeod slaying, said he does not know if the suspects were copying the Stuart case. But he said there are "too many #F similarities, even down to the cellular phone" to think otherwise.

Baltimore police said that they quickly focused on Mr. Harris after reviewing his statements. Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a police spokesman, said the suspect was inconsistent "to the point where he was uncooperative" during interviews with detectives.

"We learned that Mr. Brill and Mr. Harris became acquainted this month," Agent Weinhold said. "An agreement was reached and investigators believe Mr. Harris drove his fiancee to Joh Avenue on Friday evening to carry out the planned robbery and execution."

Investigators said it is unclear when the oral murder contract was made, but said that money never changed hands. Little could be learned about the alleged hit man yesterday. Mr. Brill has no adult arrest record. His brother refused to comment.

Family members said Ms. McLeod worked as an office manager in a Southwest Baltimore doctor's office and had taken nursing classes at Anne Arundel Community College.

She owned the two-story townhouse in the Anne Arundel County community of Elizabeth's Landing where she lived with Mr. Harris, her mother and her son, Ricky McLeod.

"She was like the life of the party, the clown, the cut-up," her mother said yesterday. "How can you forget her when this house is hers? Her walls. Her colors."

Teresa McLeod had often spoken about taking out a life insurance policy, her mother said. "And I heard her joking with Rob, 'Boy, if anything happens to me, you're going to be sitting pretty,' " her mother recalled.

But the $150,000 policy lists Ricky as the ultimate beneficiary. "[Mr. Harris] thought that she had all that money for him," Ms. McLeod's mother said.

Maj. Wendell M. France, head of the city's homicide unit, said Mr. Harris' story fell apart when detectives "recognized some basic inconsistencies in the scenario and they just continued to interview until they had some results."

Police refused to elaborate on all the inconsistencies. But one odd element to the case, police noted, was that Ms. McLeod was shot multiple times, while her fiance suffered only one minor gunshot wound to his thigh.

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