Loch Raven's murder mystery Police progress little in solving June deaths

March 24, 1996|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Joe Nawrozki contributed to this article.

Soon after two Cockeysville men were slain at Loch Raven Reservoir in June, police revealed tantalizing bits of evidence: a Monte Carlo seen in the area, a cap with a Donald Duck emblem found at the scene, some shell casings from an AK-47 assault rifle.

More recently, Baltimore County police have received a tip about a man nicknamed Jade who had argued with one of the victims in the weeks before the killings. Thursday, detectives went to rural western Pennsylvania to look for him.

But nine months after the slaying of Vernon A. Smith, 46, and Vincent B. Young, 26, detectives concede they are no closer to solving the case than they were on the warm June night the bodies were found floating in shallow water near the Warren Road bridge.

"We have no suspects right now," says Lt. Craig Bowers, who heads the county homicide unit.

Police, who do not believe the two victims had met before the slayings, are left with many questions and few answers. That's frustrating for the police and for the victims' families.

"I know if Vernon could talk to me, he would tell me to move on with my life," says Patti Banister, Mr. Smith's wife. "I wish they would solve this because the more time passes, the more we heal and become used to things as they are. I don't want to have to relive all of this pain when they catch the killers."

Says Teresa Young, Mr. Young's mother, pleading for an arrest to end the mystery: "There are so many things I don't know. Sometimes I think it's better that I don't know, but, on the other hand, I want to know."

Favorite fishing spot

Based on interviews with detectives, family members and witnesses, this much is known about the evening of June 15:

At about 5 p.m., Mr. Smith arrived at his favorite fishing spot, just north of the bridge, leaving his red Jeep Cherokee in a small, dirt parking area. Two hours later, Mr. Young arrived, parking his Honda motorcycle across the street.

At 8: 45 p.m., police were called to the area to investigate a report of gunshots. The officers walked down one side of the embankment to the water and found nothing, but they did not check the path to the water on the other side of the road. They left at 9: 10 p.m., noting Mr. Smith's car and Mr. Young's motorcycle parked there.

Soon after, a witness spotted a red Jeep turning from Paper Mill Road onto Phoenix Road, followed by a black older-model car. Between 9: 30 p.m. and 10: 03 p.m., the Jeep was driven in the area of Merryman's Mill and Paper Mill roads, police said. Between 10: 10 and 10: 20 p.m., the Jeep was left in a parking lot of the Hunt Valley Golf Club about two miles from the slayings.

Meanwhile, Ms. Banister was worried. When her husband was not home by 8: 30 p.m., she started paging him. She called his car phone. No answer. At 9: 30 p.m., she frantically called her father, Elwood H. Banister.

As his daughter was filing a missing persons report with police, Mr. Banister, who retired in 1994 as chief of the county Fire Department, rounded up volunteers from the Cockeysville station and began searching the woods around the reservoir with flashlights.

About 50 yards from the road, he spotted a pool of blood about the size of a coffeetable. Mr. Smith's rod and reel were lying along the path.

Just then, volunteer Danny Wilhelm yelled, "Over here."

"I just followed the blood to the water, and there they were," Mr. Wilhelm says. "About 8 or 10 feet out. Vernon was face down, the other man was face up."

Mr. Smith had been bludgeoned to death and Mr. Young shot with an assault rifle before being thrown into the reservoir.

'Why an AK-47?'

For the detective who has worked on the case from the beginning, the biggest question is why why was Mr. Young at the reservoir that night?

"If I knew the why, everything else would come easy," says Detective Carroll L. Bollinger Jr., who has worked on homicide cases for five years.

Police believe Mr. Young went to the reservoir to meet someone selling an AK-47 assault rifle, a high-powered weapon that can fire as many as 30 rounds in a few seconds. That theory stems partly from statements Mr. Young made to two friends in the weeks before his death. One of those friends told Detective Bollinger that Mr. Young once owned an assault rifle; the other said Mr. Young asked him to buy ammunition used for such a rifle.

"As an investigator, you have to be able to explain why an AK-47 was used to kill him," the detective says. "Not that many people are killed with that type of gun.

"So when you begin to gather information from his associates and find that he was interested in buying that type of gun, you have to ask yourself, what are the chances of him being killed with that same type of weapon? I can't just write that off as a coincidence."

A love of the outdoors

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