The two clubs -- Volcano's on Greenmount Avenue and Trilogy on Eutaw Street -- were close cousins. They had similar clientele. Similar problems with the city. And the same important backer: Mary Ross.
So there was a certain symmetry to this week's arrest: When police picked up the alleged shooter in the Oct. 24 slayings of two college students outside Volcano's nightclub, they found the suspect as he left Club Trilogy.
In East Baltimore, Ross, as community coordinator for Johnston Square Community Development Corp., had been Volcano's protector when it ran afoul of the city rules. She refused to complain despite a rising tide of violence near the establishment. In return, she got Volcano's to allow the community to use the club for neighborhood events.
This year on Eutaw Street, Ross put her familiarity with Volcano's to work as owner and operator of Club Trilogy. Without a liquor license, she secured a series of one-day licenses in the name of Johnston Square Community Development Corp.
To handle costly renovations, Ross acknowledged yesterday that she had depended on the work of Milton Tillman, a former nightclub owner who spent two years in prison for trying to bribe a member of the city zoning board. In October, Tillman was sentenced to 57 months in jail after a tax-fraud conviction.
Opponents of Ross' bid for a liquor license -- an appeal she withdrew Dec. 19 -- have questioned how a woman who retired in June from a $32,736-a-year city job could afford to fix up and open a large two-story hall.
Ross said Tillman renovated the building at 320 N. Eutaw St. shortly before she acquired the rights to run an establishment here. Ross would not discuss -- and did not reveal in filings to the liquor board -- any details of any agreement to rent the building, which is owned by Barnet and Mary Annenberg, according to city records.
Records also show she had arranged to purchase a liquor license for $15,000.
"I did not purchase the business until after Milton finished the renovations," said Ross, 52. "But he did do the renovations, that's true," she added. She declined to explain further.
Tillman is at Allenwood Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, said his lawyer, Michael Marr.
Ross also would not discuss what was going on in the club at 2 a.m. Monday before the arrest of Kevin Lamont Richardson, 24. The club does not have a liquor license, and needs approval from the zoning board to have after-hours entertainment, city housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III wrote in a December letter to the liquor board.
Last fall, after two slayings and scores of calls to the police, the city closed Volcano's. But many of the young, often violent crowds that were drawn to the club relocated to Trilogy.
"Word in East Baltimore was now that Volcano's closed, the place to go was Club Trilogy," said Baltimore Police Detective Robert L. Patton, who investigated the Volcano's slayings.
Among those who went to Trilogy, which opened in the fall, were politicians. Joan Carter Conway, the newly elected state senator, held a fund-raiser there Nov. 7. City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III attended the Nov. 24 grand opening, where he promised to support Ross in her appeal to the city liquor board for a liquor license.
These appearances occurred even as the club was coming under strong criticism from neighbors and city officials for disturbances along the 300 block of N. Eutaw St.
Bell's appearance came 12 hours after city police cited Club Trilogy for operating later than 2 a.m. That also was four days after Baltimore Police Col. Ronald Daniel wrote a letter to the city liquor board criticizing Ross' bid to acquire a liquor license. That letter, and another to the board from Downtown Partnership President Laurie B. Schwartz, blamed Trilogy for disturbances in the area.
Citing two shootings in the area last fall, Schwartz wrote: "Downtown Partnership finds it difficult to believe that these two incidents are purely coincidental given their proximity to Trilogy and their time of occurrence."
Conway said yesterday that she was unaware of community complaints about Trilogy and Tillman's connection to the club at the time of the fund-raiser. "No, my only involvement was that I do know Ms. Ross," she said.
But residents and business owners, including the Downtown Partnership, have been resolute in their opposition.
"Between the gunfire on my back parking lot, vandalism to company trucks and trash left behind every weekend," Trilogy neighbor and awning company owner John P. Hoffman wrote the city last month, "I can honestly say I would feel more comfortable living in Vietnam during the Vietnam War."
Pub Date: 1/15/97