In N.Y., police catch man sought here since 1971 He is a suspect in fatal stabbing of furniture mover

August 07, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

For more than a quarter-century, Ben David Ross has been sought by Baltimore police. Yesterday, the law caught up to him in a Bronx, N.Y., apartment -- 27 years after he was charged with fatally stabbing a furniture mover.

Members of a federal task force that scours area streets for people wanted by police said Ross had been a fugitive longer than any other suspect in a homicide sought by Baltimore police.

Ross, 57, is charged in a warrant with first-degree murder in the Feb. 1, 1971, fatal stabbing of Robert Bernard Jones, a 31-year-old West Baltimore man who police said was killed shortly after a night of drinking at a now-defunct bar on Westwood Avenue.

Police named Ross as a suspect within days of the slaying, but were unable to find him. Investigators said yesterday he had been in and out of prison in New York under aliases. He is being held there on an outstanding 1987 warrant charging him with drug possession in the Bronx.

The Baltimore state's attorney's office has not decided whether to extradite Ross or prosecute him. Police said one of the original detectives is dead or gravely ill, a weapon has never been recovered and one witness is in prison.

"I was a bit surprised," said Donald E. Worden, a former homicide detective who is a consultant working on old, hard-to-solve murder cases for the city Police Department. "I thought [the suspect] might have died."

Worden, who began his 33-year career in 1962, said members of the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force called his office two weeks ago and said, " 'Be patient, we think we have him up in New York.' Sure enough, they called this morning and said, 'We got him,' " said Worden.

Details of the slaying were difficult to obtain yesterday. A brief account in The Sun in 1971 said Jones had been walking to a friend's house when he was seen arguing with another man in the 3000 block of Herbert St. in Walbrook.

Relatives of Jones could not be found yesterday, and police said they also were unable to locate them. Friends or relatives of Ross -- who had lived in the 2200 block of W. Fayette St. -- also could not be found. Ross is being held in a Bronx jail pending a hearing today.

Homicide supervisors released a copy of the 1971 offense report, but only after blacking out more than 20 lines, including the victim's name.

Seven witnesses were interviewed at the time, including a friend of Jones who told detectives he saw the stabbing.

Police would not comment on whether they have located that witness, whose name was edited from the police report.

"We're trying to see if this is a prosecutable case," said Deputy Baltimore State's Attorney Haven H. Kodeck, who has been a city prosecutor for 28 years.

He said a decision will be made on the viability of evidence and how much witnesses can recall.

Authorities said the case came together by a stroke of luck. "We just started looking into it and developed information that he may have a criminal history in New York," said Deputy U.S. Marshal Matt Burke.

Wanted suspects are listed on a board in the homicide unit, and Burke said task force members routinely pluck names from the list on the chance they turn up something. This case attracted attention because it was so old.

Burke said his agents ran Ross' name and fingerprints through the FBI's computer and came up with a match, though under the name of Edward O'Neill Ross on Lincoln Avenue in the Bronx. Police tracked him down.

Federal marshals in New York served the warrant about 8: 30 a.m. yesterday. "The deputies there said [Ross] wasn't really surprised," Burke said. "He didn't say anything about the homicide, but he said he was the person named in the warrant."

Police can turn their sights to their next-oldest fugitive case: Michael Hughes, a man in his 60s charged with first-degree murder in the 1972 fatal shooting of a police motor pool employee. Worden said the last tip put the suspect in California.

Pub Date: 8/07/98

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