Officials fear that slayings of women may signal trend

July 21, 1998|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

Domestic violence experts are expressing concern over the rising number of slayings of women in Howard County this year.

Since January, three women have been reported killed by an ex-husband, boyfriend or acquaintance, who then killed themselves, according to police.

Judy Clancy, executive director of Howard's Domestic Violence Center, said yesterday she worries that the death Friday of Highland resident Ellie Kasten, 37, who police suspect was slain by her 44-year-old boyfriend, Robert Harris, indicates a disturbing trend.

"Three murder-suicides in one year is a trend considering that Howard County is a place where we don't have a high murder rate, but the [killings] we're seeing are all domestic violence-related," she said.

Police counted one slaying in Howard last year, and three in 1996. None involved domestic violence.

While statistics do not indicate an overall increase in domestic violence in Howard, the number of residents seeking services from the Domestic Violence Center has increased by 21 percent in the past year, Clancy said.

The increase comes in the form of women and their children attending counseling sessions, staying in shelters and seeking legal help.

"We don't know if we can say that more people are being abused, but we can say that more people are trying to get help," she said.

The Highland incident follows a similar one in Jessup in May, when James C. Campbell, 37, of Elkridge killed co-worker Joanne E. Olmert, 35, at her home before turning a rifle on himself.

In January, Vera Case, a 31-year-old veterinary technician, was shot to death by her estranged husband, Dwight E. Case, while she slept in her Mount Airy home. Hours later, Dwight Case took his own life.

Though police have not released details of Kasten and Harris' relationship and police have found no evidence that Kasten had been abused by Harris, friends and neighbors of the slain woman have suggested that the relationship was troubled.

This is not unusual, said Clancy.

"Often in relationships that may be threatening to some degree but where there hasn't been any real incidents of violence, a woman thinks that something worse isn't going to happen," Clancy said. "She thinks, 'He wouldn't really kill or hurt me,' and doesn't try to get help or seek legal recourse.

"Even people who are being beaten up fairly regularly don't want to recognize that they're in an abusive relationship," she added. "So it may be especially difficult for someone to recognize if that's not their situation."

While incidents of murder-suicide might be increasing in Howard County, domestic violence experts say the average person does not fear that the same fate awaits them.

"People view [murder-suicides] as crime they don't have to worry about," Clancy said. "It's not like people are getting shot in the mall parking lot every few months."

Pub Date: 7/21/98

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