Friends of designer offer reward for information on fatal beating

This Just In. . .

November 04, 1998|By DAN RODRICKS

JOSEPH VOWELS, the talented Baltimore interior designer and upholsterer who was beaten in his Mount Vernon shop during an apparent robbery two weeks ago today, died before dawn Monday at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was 75 and had lived in Baltimore for half a century. Friends have put up $10,000 as a reward for information that will lead police to his killer.

"I'm angry, very, very angry," said Trudy Kotrosa, one of the many people who appreciated Vowels' many talents and enjoyed his friendship and his generous way of entertaining.

"Joe loved life," says Robert Snyder, another friend and fellow resident of the condominiums at St. Paul at Chase. "He didn't speak badly of anyone or hold grudges. He was never an angry person. I can't see Joe angry."

And yet his life ended violently, at the hands of someone who got into Vowels' upholstery shop at East Biddle Street and Guilford Avenue around 2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21. Several of Vowels' friends believe he was robbed of cash and a pinky ring. Detectives are looking into the possibility of robbery as a motive. Vowels was beaten, sustaining head injuries that left him comatose. He died Monday at 4: 20 a.m. Friends are planning a memorial service.

"He always cooked Thanksgiving dinner for friends who didn't have family here," says Helen Hettchen, a longtime friend of Vowels and a customer of his upholstery business.

"I'm sure there are things in his freezer already prepared for this Thanksgiving," says Snyder. "He was a very good cook, and he loved to entertain."

Vowels and friends enjoyed the piano bar scene in Baltimore, regular dinners at the Harvey House and, more recently, the Calvert House. They celebrated as many as 10 birthday parties a year in a big way, and always at the Prime Rib. Vowels was famous for lavish holiday parties at his home on East Biddle Street. "Black-tie New Year's Eve parties," says Kotrosa. "They were good. They were very, very good."

Some years ago, Vowels moved out of his rowhouse and into a condominium at St. Paul at Chase. In recent months, Vowels and several other residents of the building have been mugged, Snyder says. Crime in the area became such a concern, he says, that a security guard was hired to patrol near St. Paul at Chase at night.

Detectives assigned to the Vowels case, upgraded from aggravated assault to homicide Monday, were working the midnight shift this week and unavailable yesterday to provide more details about the crime or the investigation. More about the crime, and details of the reward offer, in a future column.

McKay -- good sport

Jim McKay, legendary broadcaster, is back in New York for tonight's 23rd annual Boys Club of New York All Sports Hall of Fame dinner at the Waldorf Astoria, and he's not there for an emcee gig. McKay, who returned to Maryland after a long and rich career covering sports around the world for ABC -- chronicled in his book, "The Real McKay" -- will be among an array of sports figures to receive lifetime achievement awards. Sean McManus, McKay's son and the president of CBS Sports, gets to make a little speech about his dad. Wish we were there to hear it.

Secret of his success

That was a fascinating tale in The Sunday Sun about Hunt Valley-based InterAct, manufacturer of video game accessories, joysticks and such.

Todd Hays, the founder and president of the company, is a genuine success story. He started InterAct in 1991. The company of which his was a subsidiary was sold in 1995, and Hays made $1.5 million on the deal. He makes $1 million a year through InterAct Accessories. Wow!

We were feeling all warm and fuzzy about this story of entrepreneurial daring until we got to this part: "He and his wife, ,, Whitney, live in a 10,000-square-foot home in Hunt Valley and spend weekends at their Ocean City beach house. InterAct's factory in Hong Kong also gives it an edge. While other accessory companies are paying intermediaries for their goods, InterAct has as many as 6,000 workers -- mainly women -- making about $3.50 a day, who live in factory dormitories." The shameless bragging about such exploitation didn't stop there. Hays told The Sun: "The Asian crisis has helped us a great deal." Good for you, Todd.

Politics, anyone?

We've been through Bill and Monica, Parris and Ellen, a depressing and ugly political season all around. In the midst of this -- negative campaign ads, the Starr report -- a friend, wondering if we'll ever again have political leadership that offers noble ideas and honorable examples, sent along an excerpt of a 30-year-old speech, delivered by Robert F. Kennedy in the last year of his life. Here it is:

"The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate, or the intelligence or integrity of our public officials. It measures neither wit nor our courage, neither our vision, our wisdom or our learning. Neither our compassion nor devotion to our country. It measures everything about America except why we are proud to be Americans." is the e-mail address for Dan Rodricks. Readers also may contact him at 410-332-6166 or by mail at The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278.

Pub Date: 11/04/98

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