Robber charged with reservoir murders A. Zenone accused in 1995 homicides at Loch Raven watershed

April 01, 1997|By Joan Jacobson and Kris Antonelli | Joan Jacobson and Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Nearly two years after a mysterious double-slaying at Loch Raven Reservoir, a Baltimore County grand jury indicted yesterday convicted bank robber Anthony Zenone -- one of two main suspects -- in the deaths of the two Cockeysville men near the reservoir's Warren Road bridge.

Zenone, 31, was charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the June 1995 death of Vincent Brian Young, 26, who was shot several times in the chest, and Vernon Arthur Smith, 46, who died from a blow to the head, said Assistant State's Attorney S. Ann Brobst.

Zenone and his brother, Michael Zenone, 28, have been suspects in the case since May 7, when police found an assault rifle in Anthony Zenone's bedroom closet that later was shown through ballistics tests to be the gun used in the slaying.

"Michael's case is still under active investigation," Brobst said yesterday, but she would not say why he was not indicted along with his older brother.

Gordon Tayback, Anthony's attorney, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

But Gerald Ruter, Michael Zenone's attorney, said he was not surprised that his client was not indicted for murder. "Michael had nothing whatsoever to do with those murders," he said.

News of the single murder indictment was a relief to members of the victims' families, who said they are eager to attend the trial and put the incident behind them.

"It's been almost a year waiting for the police to identify a suspect and then almost another year before the police charged anyone," said Patti Banister, Vernon Smith's wife of three years and mother of his 2 1/2 -year-old son. "I am looking forward to my notoriety ending and getting some privacy back. Ever since this happened, I have been known as the woman whose husband was killed at Loch Raven."

From the beginning -- and even yesterday -- many details of the Loch Raven slayings have remained a mystery, with investigators unable to say exactly what the Zenone brothers or Young might have doing at the normally quiet reservoir.

The bodies of Young and Smith -- who were not known to be tTC acquaintances -- were discovered in shallow water near the Warren Road Bridge around 9: 30 p.m. June 15 by Banister's father and volunteers from the Cockeysville Volunteer Fire Company.

Smith, who had gone there that night to fish, his wife said, had been bludgeoned to death. Young had been shot with an assault rifle before being thrown into the reservoir. Both men's pockets had been emptied.

And while Smith's red Jeep Cherokee was found a short time later parked in a remote lot at the Hunt Valley Golf Club, the killers left behind Young's motorcycle, which was parked near the bridge.

Break in case

Despite months of searching through clues, including reports of a dark-colored Chevrolet Monte Carlo near the bridge on the night of the slayings, it was 11 months before detectives got their big break: discovery of the assault rifle in the Zenones' East Baltimore home during a search for evidence that would link them to a series of area bank robberies.

But that search and other evidence, including videotapes of news reports about the homicides, did not yield all the answers.

"The police were never able to find a link or relationship between either of the Zenones and either of the victims," said Brobst.

One theory developed earlier in the investigation is that Young met the brothers at the reservoir because he was interested in buying an assault rifle from them. Smith could have been killed because he witnessed Young's death or accidentally came across the body immediately after it happened, detectives theorized.

But members of Young's family and some friends have said he would not have spent his money on a rifle at a time when he was saving for a cross-country trip to California. They also note that Young rode his motorcycle to the reservoir that night, which would not have allowed him to transport a large gun.

Long wait for lab

Yesterday, the prosecutor said the long delay in the indictment was, in part, because, "we were waiting for forensic evidence, DNA testing."

She declined to say what evidence was tested, saying only that there was "no blood on the scene belonging to Anthony. The blood on the scene belonged to the victims."

At the time of the murders, police found shell casings and a Donald Duck baseball cap, which police say may have belonged Anthony Zenone. The Donald Duck cap was turned over to state police and FBI labs for DNA testing after the murders.

Brobst also said the indictment was delayed because county prosecutors were waiting until after the Zenones were tried in U.S. District Court on bank robbery charges, for which they were sentenced last month.

Anthony Zenone is now serving 34 years for robbing the First Virginia Bank in Towson on April 26, 1996, the Mercantile-Safe Deposit and Trust Co. in White Marsh on April 12, 1996, and First National Bank in Arnold on Sept. 2, 1993.

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