Residents try to cope with slayings A town of 4,100 is stunned by 3 killings within two weeks

'It never happened here'

Domestic violence is suspected in each of the crimes

June 18, 1997|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Traffic thundered by on Route 30. Flower baskets lined the sidewalk outside Bob's Variety Store. Time ticked away at Roy's Never Stop Clock Shop.

But an undercurrent of uneasiness ran through Hampstead yesterday, as residents tried to comprehend the three slayings that have taken place here within two weeks.

This is Hampstead, after all, where the local police force is more accustomed to dealing with speeding and the theft of lawn furniture in a town with 4,100 residents.

"It kind of scares me I've always thought of this as a little tiny town," said Jeff Bradford, 17, while working at the Tropical Sunset Shaved Ice stand on Hillcrest Avenue.

"But there's not much you can really do. It's just that everybody here knows everybody. You just feel, like, sorry. It's almost like a family member."

Three of the four homicides in Carroll County this year have occurred in Hampstead, and all three are believed to have involved domestic violence. The death of a 6-year-old Westminster girl in February has been ruled a homicide but no one has been charged.

Last weekend, Sharon L. Mechalske, 38, and Kent L. Cullison were found fatally shot at Mechalske's home at 4291 Wolf Hill Drive. On June 2, Patricia A. Titus, 40, was found strangled in a bedroom closet at her home in the 4400 block of Utz Road.

Charged in the Mechalske and Cullison slayings is Harper Smith Dean III, an ex-boyfriend of Mechalske's. The Carroll state's attorney plans to seek the death penalty in the shootings.

Patricia Titus' estranged husband, John T. Titus, has been charged with first-degree murder.

"There's a lot of folks that live in town who knew these victims," said Ken Meekins, Hampstead's police chief. "You have a face on the victim. If this occurred in Baltimore City, it would be just another crime."

The victims and the alleged killer in the most recent slaying were well known in Hampstead.

Mechalske, a systems analyst for Procter & Gamble in Hunt Valley for 20 years, worked part time at Dean's Restaurant on Main Street. Dean operated Kody's Kountry Pit on Route 30, just outside Hampstead.

Donna Hanke, an employee at Bob's Variety Store on Main Street, remembers seeing Mechalske and her two children -- who were staying with their father at the time of the slaying -- in the store.

"It's a little hard to believe," said Ronald Eyler, who works at Cox Ford on Main Street and remembered Dean as a regular customer. "He always treated me pretty good."

Yesterday, it wasn't difficult to find folks in town who had some connection to the people involved in the killings.

Waitresses remembered Dean as a nice guy. One woman recalled that her husband worked with Cullison's father. A young man said his mother knew Mechalske's two sons.

But most people had no interest in discussing the slayings.

"This is stuff you read about in the paper, but it never happened here in Hampstead," said a waitress at the Sunset Restaurant and Lounge, who noted that Dean was a regular bar patron. The woman declined to give her name.

Joe Getty, a state delegate who has a law office on Main Street, said that although the slayings appear to have resulted from problems within personal relationships, the town as a whole is affected.

"It does hit everybody hard," he said. "I think people in town will be more aware of domestic violence now that they've seen the tragic consequences."

Pub Date: 6/18/97

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