As police sift claims, families seek solace Serial killings suspect might have slain 10

January 13, 1997|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Staring into a video camera in the fall of 1995, 23-year-old Kimberly Spicer didn't know it but she didn't have much longer to live.

"What are you doing, Kim?" asked her sister, who was shooting a home video of the family's visit to their stepfather before his open-heart surgery at Harbor Hospital Center.

"I'm looking out the harbor window, wishing I was on the boat," said the pretty auburn-haired woman, then unemployed, struggling with a crack cocaine problem and drifting through life in lower-middle-class South Baltimore.

A year later, on Nov. 11, she lost her final struggle -- not with social problems but allegedly with a man named Joseph R. Metheny, who claims he is a serial killer, police say. She was found stabbed to death Dec. 15, buried under a trailer at a pallet factory where Metheny lived, worked and, according to police, hid two of three women he is suspected of killing.

"Kim had her problems, but she was a battler, always struggling with her problems and hoping to turn the corner," recalled her mother, Kathie Price, 44, a state-employed fiscal clerk. "I guess that's the kind of person he preyed on."

It was on and around Washington Boulevard in South Baltimore where police say Metheny, 41, hung out in bars, lived with bands of homeless men and spent almost all of his $7-an-hour wages as a forklift driver on crack, heroin and Southern Comfort.

It was also there that police say he sought out the troubled, aimless people that were to become the focus of a rage that police, prosecutors, his attorney and even his own mother have yet to comprehend.

Police are investigating his claim that he killed as many as 10 people.

"Nobody would have thought it," said Connie Snow, Spicer's older sister, who used to work at a South Baltimore bar where Metheny occasionally drank. "He was so mannerly, saying 'thank you' and 'please' all the time. My sister once even said to me she felt sorry for him."

Adds John Ingrassia, the father of Toni Lynn Ingrassia, 28, another woman Metheny is charged with killing: "Toni Lynn was a good girl. She had some problems with drugs but was trying to get help. Who could do such a sick thing to her?"

By all accounts an intelligent, well-spoken man who once took physics courses while serving in the Army, Metheny has spent much of the past 20 years in a world few people ever see.

After breaking off from his family in the 1970s, he has drifted in and out of Baltimore homeless camps composed of filthy tents and sleeping bags under bridges and over sewer gratings.

In 1995, he was charged with killing two 33-year-old homeless men, Randall Brewer and Randy Piker, amid a supposed turf dispute between "rival homeless camps," court records said. Both men had been mauled with a woodcutter's ax that Metheny's Patapsco Avenue-area camp kept under a rotting sofa, court records said.


Metheny was acquitted of the murders in Baltimore Circuit Court, where jurors sent Judge Clifton J. Gordy a note during deliberations that suggested that they thought another homeless man was responsible for the killings.

But Metheny has since claimed that he committed the killings after a night of drinking beer so that he could take $300 from one of the men, court papers said.

It is unclear how truthful his claims are, even to those handling his defense. Among other things, he told his lawyer that his mother was dead, which came as a surprise to his mother.

"Maybe he just wishes I was," said his mother, Jean B. Metheny, 78, tracked down by a reporter at her home in Markleysburg, Pa. "He pushed his family away a long time ago."

For several years, police say that Joseph Metheny's primary targets have been young white women who, like Spicer and Ingrassia, had fallen or were falling into the drug culture along Washington Boulevard.


Detectives describe the crimes as brutal sexual assaults that seem to suggest a psychotic aggression toward a certain type of woman.

One of his alleged victims, Cathy A. Magaziner, a 39-year-old woman with numerous convictions for prostitution in South Baltimore, had been decapitated, court papers said.

Metheny says he killed three other prostitutes along Washington Boulevard, although Baltimore police say those claims are unconfirmed because no bodies have been found.

"I have no reason not to believe him," said his attorney, Margaret A. Mead, who describes Metheny as "remarkably kind and gentle" in their conversations. "I have always found him to be forthright and honest. I think he's telling the truth."

It is unclear whether Metheny's suspected rage toward women is directed at prostitutes or simply any vulnerable young woman walking along the boulevard.

Court records show that neither Spicer nor Ingrassia was ever charged with prostitution.

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