Frizzellburg residents await information on killings of couple Police call homicides `an isolated incident'

January 01, 1999|By Sherry Lyons and James M. Coram and Sun staff writers John Murphy and Peter Hermann contributed to this article. and SUN STAFF

The deaths of a retired Baltimore police officer and his wife stunned residents of the Carroll County village of Frizzellburg yesterday as police worked round the clock to solve the killings.

Barbara Lorraine Garrity, 67, and Joseph Sidney Garrity, 68, were found dead -- fully dressed in a bathroom -- late Tuesday.

The deaths were determined to be homicides yesterday, but police said they appeared to be an isolated incident.

"A lot of people are waiting to see what happened," said Laura Turner, owner of the Frizzellburg Antique Store. "It's just shocking."

The village lies south of the couple's home in the Pleasant Dale subdivision, about five miles northwest of Westminster.

"Everybody is just waiting" for more details, she said.

State police investigators said they had talked to Gary Starnes, 48, who was living with his mother, Mrs. Garrity, and his stepfather.

Starnes was released after he was interviewed and was not in police custody, 1st Sgt. Laura Lu Herman, a state police spokeswoman, said.

"We have not named a suspect, we have not filed charges," she said.

Investigators plan to search a truck that was found parked at Carroll County General Hospital late Wednesday and had been used by Starnes. They also plan to search the clothing of a man reportedly admitted to the hospital Wednesday, authorities said. Hospital officials would not confirm or deny the admission.

Herman said she was unaware of any hospitalization related to the case.

Investigators will continue interviewing "until we can come to a determination of who committed these homicides," Herman said.

The Garritys were found dead shortly after 11 p.m. Tuesday. An anonymous telephone caller had asked state police at the Westminster barracks to check on the occupants of the home in the 1400 block of Warehime Road.

The medical examiner's office in Baltimore determined the deaths to be homicides -- caused by blunt-force trauma to the upper bodies, Herman said. Authorities said an ax or a hatchet was used. No sign of forced entry was found, and police said that nothing appeared to be missing.

Asked to respond to residents' fears, Herman said, "We believe this is an isolated incident and not a random act of violence." She refused to elaborate.

"The investigators have not taken a break. They are working around the clock on this case and will continue to do so," Herman said.

The case is being handled by the state police Special Investigation Support Unit, based in Columbia.

Westminster resident Jeanne Mueller, shopping in Frizzellburg, was among those wanting more information.

"Obviously, a double murder has upset our community," she said. "It's something we don't usually deal with in the rolling hills of Carroll County.

"We don't know what's happened. There are not enough facts out. The sooner we have the information, the more comfortable we all will be," Mueller said.

Information was so sketchy that many parents in the Pleasant Dale neighborhood had not told their school-age children about the crime, fearing that it might scare them, neighbors said.

Dennis Meloche, who lives across the street from the Garritys, said he knew the retired couple to say hello but was not close to them.

He was awakened at 3: 15 a.m. Wednesday by state police, who informed him of the deaths.

"It was a shock. It was a real shock," he said. "The biggest thing you might get is a mailbox bashed in at Halloween. There's just no crime -- or major crime -- here. Half the people here don't lock their doors."

Meloche described his middle-class neighborhood as a close community, but said because the homes are far apart, contact between neighbors is rare.

"The only time you get to know them is when something like this happens," he said.

Ronald Frock, another neighbor, said Mrs. Garrity's son lived at the home off and on and often worked on his Ford Ranger pickup truck in the driveway.

Frock said the Garritys were a very close couple who cared for one another. Barbara Garrity suffered from arthritis and sometimes used a wheelchair, he said. Her husband could often be seen helping her into the car or performing household chores.

"Joe was devoted to her. He would do anything for that woman," Frock said.

Shop-owner Turner, who had been out of town for the holidays, learned of the crime from a television report.

"I didn't know the people," she said.

Mr. Garrity joined the Baltimore police force in 1955 and retired in 1984, working last as a sergeant in the traffic division, said Gary McLhinney, president of Baltimore Lodge 3 of the Fraternal Order of Police. Mr. Garrity had three commendations, including a bronze star for participating in the rescue of a man from a burning car in February 1958.

Mrs. Garrity had retired in 1979 as a secretary for Maryland State Police, Herman said.

Family members handling funeral arrangements asked that their privacy be respected.

Pub Date: 1/01/99

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