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A tragic case of contradictions Slaying: A father and daughter's first outing alone would be their last. Police say Richard Nicolas killed 2-year-old Aja, but friends say they're certain he didn't.

August 25, 1996|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

But most parents buy such a policy to give their children a financial leg-up, according to company officials. When Aja turned 21, she could cash in the policy to recover the accumulated $11 monthly premiums and some interest -- about $3,000.

Visits to the toddler

After he began making child-support payments in October, Nicolas called Esbrand more often. Aja's mother permitted some supervised visits, but she was wary of a man she hardly knew and considered unreliable.

"Richard seemed happy," says Griffin, his co-worker. "He wanted to see more" of Aja.

The week before Aja died, Nicolas' interest intensified. On Friday, July 19, Nicolas and Griffin spent 15 minutes at the Frankford Avenue house, talking pleasantly with Esbrand and playing with Aja.

Encouraged by the visit, and determined that her daughter get to know Nicolas, Esbrand let him join a family trip two days later to Gunpowder Falls State Park in eastern Baltimore County. There he walked on the sand with his daughter. But at 4 p.m., sunburned, he abruptly left.

The next day, Nicolas called Esbrand and insisted that all three of them go to the movies. But on Wednesday, he said he wanted to go with Aja alone, she says. Esbrand had her doubts, but on Thursday she agreed.

Nicolas seemed to have big plans for the future. Late Thursday night, he joined friends at a bar to celebrate completion of a medical terminology class he needed to become a full-fledged paramedic.

He had given Sonny Shaw $700 for an August vacation at Fenwick Island. And on Friday afternoon at 3 o'clock, a jovial Nicolas called Griffin, and the two agreed to go shooting at a Timonium gun club Sunday afternoon.

At 6 p.m. Friday, he pulled up to Esbrand's home in his light blue 1990 Chevy Cavalier, and his mood was different, hurried, according to relatives and police sources.

He stormed into a bathroom, complaining that Esbrand was taking too long to get Aja ready.

The 2-year-old was dressed in black tights and a red Warner Bros. T-shirt with the image of a cartoon character, the Tasmanian Devil. As was her custom, Aja gave everyone in the house -- friends and relatives -- goodbye kisses.

Nicolas refused to take Aja's child safety seat along. He gathered his daughter up, and the child leaned over, at Nicolas' urging, to give her mother a last kiss.

As her daughter giggled, Nicolas took off east on Frankford, waving from his car. Nervous, Esbrand scribbled down the license number.

Late coming home

By 9 o'clock, Esbrand was frantic; Nicolas had not said the movie would be so late. She dialed his pager and entered her phone number.

By 9: 30 p.m., the movie was over. Esbrand was beeping him every five minutes but couldn't tell if he was getting the messages.

According to law enforcement sources, she stopped typing in her phone number. She beeped "911" instead.

Nicolas' route home, according to police and friends who have spoken with him, took him west on Pulaski Highway, past motels and dark warehouses. He turned right onto Moravia Park Drive.

In less than a mile, Moravia Park would turn into Frankford, and Aja would be on her way home.

But instead, 150 yards from Frankford, he turned left onto a tiny road called Bowleys Lane, on the edge of Moravia Industrial Park. He stopped the car on the left side of the narrow road, under a street light.

It was then, he told police, that a long-haired driver who had been trailing him pulled alongside his car and took out a gun.

To Nicolas' right was Interstate 895, a thoroughfare of trucks and cars and people. Not more than 30 feet away, on a slope to his left, were the headstones of a Jewish cemetery.

There, on a road between life and death, somebody shot Aja Nicolas.

Pub Date: 8/25/96

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