Carroll girl, 17, found slain in Reisterstown She had accepted baby-sitting job from a stranger

Man, 26, is charged

Victim about to leave for college in Florida

July 30, 1998|By Dail Willis and Jay Apperson | Dail Willis and Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers John Murphy and Mary Gail Hare and Sun staff researcher Jean Packard contributed to this article.

A 17-year-old Eldersburg honors student, who was a tennis champion and community service leader, was found strangled in her car early yesterday at a Reisterstown apartment complex -- less than 24 hours after she agreed to baby-sit for a stranger.

Arrested and charged yesterday with the murder of Shen Dullea Poehlman was 26-year-old John Albert Miller IV, an unemployed store clerk.

He moved to Reisterstown three months ago from Rochester, N.Y., where he had been convicted of at least three crimes including assault, authorities said.

Police said Miller confessed to smothering and strangling the popular Liberty High School graduate, who had planned to leave in two weeks for Florida State University, where she had received an academic scholarship.

Yesterday, grieving friends and family members in the Carroll County bedroom community described Shen as a sensitive teen-ager who donated 163 community service hours -- more than twice her high school's requirement -- and trusted others.

"I think she was naive. She expected good of people," her aunt, Suzie Markus, said tearfully.

"Baby-sitting was not something she chose routinely. She had paying jobs in fast food, marketing."

Shen encountered Miller late Monday afternoon at the Bentley Park Apartments in Reisterstown, where she had gone with two friends to visit another girl working as a lifeguard at the complex's swimming pool, police said.

They said Miller approached the girls and asked if one of them would baby-sit for his children.

The others said no -- but Shen, who rarely baby-sat, agreed and jotted down her phone number for Miller.

That evening, police said, he called Shen and arranged for her to come to his apartment Tuesday morning to baby-sit his children for a couple of hours, earning $10 an hour.

Perhaps uneasy about the arrangement, Shen told Jessica Shadoff and Lauren Tupis that she would call them about 9: 30 Tuesday morning, according to police documents.

She told her friends they should go looking for her if she didn't call.

She also told her older sister, Heather, 22, about the baby-sitting job.

"There were red flags all over this situation," her mother, Janice D. Poehlman, said yesterday.

"Her friends warned her -- but it is that teen-age mentality, that feeling of being indestructible.

"This was just a stupid teen-age move, that so many kids will do to prove they are invincible," Mrs. Poehlman said.

Worry turns to alarm

When Shen didn't call her friends as she had promised, Jessica and Lauren began to worry. They called Shen's mother, who reported her missing to police.

Janice and Heather Poehlman went to the office of Public Opinion in Eldersburg, a polling and marketing company where Shen worked.

When she didn't show up for her 5: 30 p.m. shift, worry turned to alarm.

"I knew something was wrong," said Robert Jones, the owner of Public Opinion, who described Shen as reliable and conscientious.

Later that evening, police officers met Shen's mother, Jessica and Lauren at the Bentley Park pool. The girls told police that Miller had approached them about baby-sitting.

Officers went to Miller's apartment at 415 Valley Meadow Way, where Miller's girlfriend, Isabella Sherman, answered the door.

When police asked to see Miller, she asked them if their visit concerned the girl at the pool.

'Is she alive?'

She said Miller told her the girl had been at the apartment in the morning, but that he had sent her away.

"Is she alive? Is she OK?" police said the woman asked them.

After Miller emerged from the bathroom, police took him to Garrison precinct, where he initially told them he had not seen the girl since Monday when he approached her at the pool.

But midway through the interview, detectives learned that the girl's body had been discovered in the back seat of her light blue 1988 Honda, which was parked in an apartment complex about a mile from Miller's apartment.

The body was clothed and covered by a blanket. Police would not comment about whether the teen-ager had been sexually assaulted.

Miller then confessed to killing her in his apartment, according to charging documents.

He told police he put the girl's body in the car and drove to Sugarbury Court behind Franklin High School, according to the documents.

Residents of Sugarbury Court recalled seeing the car parked there Tuesday afternoon, but no one noticed a body -- not even a woman who was walking her dog and stopped by the car.

"I didn't look inside," said Sandra Ali, who lives on Sugarbury Court.

Wanted to play for Orioles

Miller worked briefly at the Royal Farm Store on nearby Chartley Drive before being fired for not following company policy about proper handling of cash.

Acquaintances said he told them he came to Baltimore to try out for the Orioles.

"The only thing I knew was, him and his girlfriend moved down here from New York because she got a job here," said Pam Baldwin, a former manager at the Chartley Royal Farm Store, who hired Miller.

"He wanted to try out for the Orioles baseball team. He seemed all right to me."

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