Arrest made in 1985 killing Ellicott City woman was missing 10 1/2 years before remains found

November 26, 1997|By Jill Hudson | Jill Hudson,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this article.

Nearly 13 years after Ellicott City resident Sandra Lee Taylor disappeared, police arrested a Pennsylvania man yesterday in the killing.

Kenneth Allen White, 47, a mechanic from Lebanon, Pa., was arrested at his home on a Howard County warrant charging him with first-degree murder, county police said. White is in jail there awaiting an extradition hearing today.

Although the case is classified as a homicide, police said they do not know how Taylor was killed.

Taylor, 31, was reported missing by her two children, then 13 and 11, Jan. 4, 1985, after she failed to return to her Fels Lane home in Ellicott City.

Police said she was last seen the morning of Jan. 1, 1985. She had spent New Year's Eve at an Oella bar, where, police believe, she met White.

Court documents released yesterday said White was visiting relatives in this area. Patrons and employees of the bar told police Taylor was seen kissing a man and talking to two men, one of was whom was later identified as White, the documents show.

Another employee told police that Taylor left the bar with the two men at 6 a.m. Jan. 1, according to the records.

During the initial police investigation, White was one of the first people questioned about Taylor's disappearance.

"Although we interviewed him at the time of the disappearance, there was no probable cause for arresting him or anyone," said Sgt. Steven Keller, Howard County police spokesman.

A spokesman for Lebanon County police said White had worked recently as a mechanic, building truck bodies for Supreme Mid-Atlantic Corp. in Jonestown, Pa., a town north of Lebanon.

The arrest came as a relief to Mary Winkles of Ellicott City, a family friend who helped raise Taylor and her three siblings -- Stephanie Gover of Florida, Freddie Gover of Woodstock and Stephen Gover of Ellicott City. Both families lived on Fels Lane, and Winkles still resides there.

"It just made no sense to me, her getting killed," she said. "She never did anything to anybody. It's such a relief. I feel like maybe she's finally at rest."

'Suspicious death' for decade

Taylor's case had been classified by Howard County police as a suspicious death until August 1995, when her skeletal remains were found in a muddy stream off Route 99 in the Woodstock area, Keller said.

It had been Howard County's oldest missing-person case until Taylor's remains were found.

Identifying the nature of Taylor's death was a painstaking process that took slightly more than two years. Because only bones were left, the state medical examiner's office worked with dental records and a few bits of clothing recovered at the scene.

Then, this month, Howard police and the medical examiner declared Taylor's death a homicide -- an announcement they didn't publicize.

Howard detectives began to suspect White after police contacted witnesses for another round of interviews in 1995, Keller said.

"Based on the number of inconsistencies and changes in his story and of others, we applied for and obtained an arrest warrant for Mr. White," Keller said yesterday. "But this all happened after the medical examiner's office ruled the case a homicide."

A frustrating case

It was a case that frustrated Taylor's relatives and Howard police, who searched in vain for clues to what happened to the woman known to relatives as Rica.

About 11 p.m. Dec. 31, 1984, Taylor headed for her favorite bar, Valley View Inn, across the Frederick Road Bridge in Oella. The Inn -- now the Trolley Stop restaurant -- had a reputation as a rowdy working-man's bar. Howard police often assisted Baltimore County police in breaking up fights at the popular late-night establishment, Keller said.

Police accounts at the time said Taylor walked the short distance from her home to the bar. She was wearing blue jeans, a blue-and-gold sleeveless ski vest and work boots.

Friends and relatives told police that Taylor knew the area well. She had lived in Ellicott City for two-thirds of her life and moved to Baltimore in 1971 when she married George Taylor. The Taylors divorced in 1981, and she moved back to Ellicott City with her children, Christine and Nicholas.

Stephen Gover told police he saw his sister get out of a red or orange car near her home, only to immediately get back into the vehicle, which drove off.

Her family never saw her alive again.

Pub Date: 11/26/97

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