Victim's parents appeal for help Family, detective visit site where art teacher was shot to death

December 08, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

William F. Crumel Sr. stood perfectly still. He held a photograph of his only son with both hands and silently stared into a bank of television cameras that was there to record his grief.

The man in the picture was William F. Crumel Jr., a 27-year-old art teacher at Highlandtown Elementary School and graphic arts designer who was killed during an apparent robbery three months ago in Northwest Baltimore -- shot in the head as he sat in his Ford Mustang convertible.

Crumel and his wife, Anita, went yesterday to the spot where their son had been killed and pleaded for help, hoping public attention will prompt a witness or an accomplice to step forward.

"The person who pulled the trigger has no idea the pain that has been caused to this family," Mrs. Crumel said, fighting tears as she read from notes she had written the night before.

"There is somebody out there who knows who did this," the victim's mother, a Bell Atlantic executive in Baltimore, continued. "There is too much senseless murder that takes place in this city."

The lead police investigator assigned to the case is equally frustrated. Clutching a thick folder under his arm, Detective Scott G. Serio said he needs someone to call with a tip. A $5,000 Metro Crime Stoppers award is being offered.

"There is no explanation as to why he was here," Serio said, standing in the 4500 block of The Strand, a small residential street near Greenspring Avenue in Edgecombe. The killing appears to have been an attempted robbery. "I'm not sure if the assailant got anything."

Such public pleas by homicide detectives are rare, but the tactics have been used twice with success in the past two years.

In December 1996, detectives held a news conference outside an East Baltimore nightclub where two college students had been killed when a gunman fired into a crowd, aiming for someone else. A month later, a witness broke a three-month silence and gave police information to make an arrest.

Less than two weeks after police begged for help in the killing of a Pen Lucy store owner in November 1997, detectives received tips that led to the arrests of a man and two teen-agers.

The Sept. 6 slaying of Crumel appears as baffling. Serio said the victim left a friend's house on Eutaw Street in the city about 10 p.m. and apparently was headed home to Owings Mills.

About 11 p.m., police responding to The Strand for reported gunfire found Crumel dead in his car, the top and windows up and the motor running.

Mrs. Crumel said she had urged her son to move to Baltimore eight months ago, hoping he would have more opportunities than in Petersburg, Va., where he went to school at Virginia State University.

In Baltimore, the young Crumel started a graphics art business and became a substitute art teacher at Highlandtown Elementary. After a few months, he joined the school staff full time.

"He told me he wanted that to be his career," the mother said, pausing to wipe tears from her cheek. "He wanted to help children and he wanted to do that for the rest of his life."

The only clues to his shooting were credit card receipts strewn in the back seat.

Detectives couldn't find the victim's card and assumed it had been stolen. The FBI and Maryland State Police issued an alert, and three days later police discovered the card was being used at a clothing store in Reisterstown.

Police and federal agents arrested the man using the card. Serio walked into the downtown police headquarters building hoping to see a potential murder suspect, only to find the elder Crumel, bewildered and handcuffed.

He had borrowed his son's Mustang before the killing and forgotten he had left behind his credit card receipts, which didn't denote he is a senior.

Mr. Crumel, who assembles cars for Ford Motor Co. in Edison, N.J., was released. He isn't bitter about the mix-up -- though he was buying a suit for his son's funeral when he was detained.

"It gave me confidence that they were taking this case seriously," he said yesterday. "Whoever did this caused a lot of pain. I hope somebody comes forward."

Pub Date: 12/08/98

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