Fells Point killing probed

Officials maintain tourist areas safe in wake of attacks

July 02, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A conventioneer from New Jersey who was found dead in his room at a historic Fells Point hotel Wednesday evening was beaten to death, and his attacker might have stolen his dark blue truck, Baltimore police said yesterday.

Investigators found no sign of forced entry to the victim's fourth-floor room at the Admiral Fell Inn on South Broadway. Officials said they do not know how the man, who had been attending a pharmaceutical convention, met his attacker.

Police said last night that more than 24 hours after the killing, detectives were unable to locate the victim's relatives. Police declined to release the man's name, and would only say he was in his 30s.

The killing in one of the city's premier tourist districts was followed hours later by an apparently unrelated robbery and shooting of an aeronautical engineer from Littleton, Colo., who was attacked as he walked with a friend to a restaurant on North Charles Street.

Concerned city officials, who are working hard to boost tourism by encouraging the building of hotels, called the incidents distressing, but insisted the downtown and waterfront districts remain safe.

The engineer who was shot on North Charles Street, near the Inner Harbor Omni Hotel, said yesterday that he has visited Baltimore often on business and would not hesitate to return. Albert Nemes, who was here on engineering business, said a man apparently panicked and fired a shot that grazed his upper lip after he handed over $120.

"I've walked up Charles toward restaurants many times and never felt threatened," said Nemes, 56, before he boarded a flight home yesterday afternoon. "I woke up this morning thinking, `I'm glad I'm not one of those chalk marks on the sidewalk.' "

Millions of tourists a year

An estimated 13.4 million tourists visit Baltimore annually, including about 100,000 conventioneers. The city spent $151 million to expand the Baltimore Convention Center in 1996, and eight new hotels are tentatively planned.

The Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development recently surveyed people attending 400 conventions and concluded that the majority had a good experience in the city, but parking, panhandlers and safety topped their concerns.

In November, a New York dancer who had performed at the Lyric Theatre was paralyzed after he was mugged and shot outside the Tremont Plaza Hotel on West Saratoga and St. Paul streets, prompting his relatives to label the city one of the scariest they had seen.

"Baltimore is a big city," said Nancy Hinds, director of communications for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "It has crime. But the crime rarely affects the downtown areas where conventioneers and tourists go."

As of yesterday, 125 people had been killed in Baltimore this year, down from the 157 homicides at this point last year. Three fatal shootings have been reported this year downtown, all west of North Charles Street. None have occurred in Fells Point.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke called downtown "one of the safest areas in the region. Every city has some concerns. All of our crime rates are down. Homicide numbers are down, and when people take basic precautions when moving around downtown or any place, they're generally safe."

No arrest had been made yesterday in the shooting and police were tight-lipped about their investigation into the beating death at the Admiral Fell Inn, which was built in the late 1700s and has been used as a boarding house for sailors, a Seaman's YMCA and a vinegar bottling plant.

Police and other officials said the victim had been attending the Drug Information Association convention, which provides a forum on the development of medicines.

Association officials, most of whom left Baltimore yesterday as their meetings concluded, could not be reached for comment.

The body was discovered by a hotel manager who checked the room when the victim's friends said he had not been seen for a while. The manager ran out of the hotel and flagged down a passing police officer.

Agent Angelique Cook-Hayes, a police spokeswoman, said the man died of blunt force trauma to the body. Police would not describe the weapon, and neither they nor hotel spokeswoman Nancy Caudill would release any other details.

Investigators did say that the victim's 1999 dark blue GMC Yukon sport utility vehicle with temporary New Jersey license plate number ZR989L was missing.

Caudill said she spent most of Wednesday evening telling guests what had happened and offering them alternative places to stay. No one chose to leave. "We wanted them to feel comfortable," she said.

Caudill said the four-story inn has 45 full-time employees, 100 total when the two restaurants are open. Its 80 rooms -- which cost from $159 to $199 a night -- were 70 percent full Wednesday night. Caudill said police took check-in and other occupant information.

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