Police link slaying to 2nd assault

Minister's killer thought to be man who robbed woman hours earlier

`May be a vital clue'

Sketch of gunman based on description from victim, witnesses

August 04, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A Park Heights minister who was killed last month may have been the second victim of an armed robber who had placed a gun to a woman's head hours earlier and stolen $2, Baltimore police said yesterday.

Information from the woman -- and from two other witnesses who got a brief look at the gunman moments after the Rev. Junior Lee Gamble was shot on the morning of July 15 -- has led police to release a composite sketch of a potential suspect.

Police are urging people to call them if they recognize the man depicted in the computer-aided drawing. He was described as black, in his 20s, 6 feet tall, weighing 180 pounds, with a medium complexion. He was last seen wearing a red baseball cap backward and clutching a dark-colored revolver.

"What seems like an insignificant piece of information may be a vital clue in solving the preacher's murder," said police spokesman Robert W. Weinhold Jr.

The first substantive break came nearly three weeks after Gamble, 73, was shot twice in the head as he searched the trunk of his car for windshield cleaner in front of his Quantico Avenue rowhouse. He was on his way to a store to buy eggs; his wallet with $15 was left in his back pocket.

Frustrated relatives said they have not heard much information. "I'm very concerned," said the Rev. Joe Barnwell, Gamble's nephew. "I thought that this was enough time for them to find out who did this."

In the weeks since the slaying, police have flooded the Northwest Baltimore neighborhood, arrested dozens of petty criminals and seized more than 50 weapons, all of which are being tested by federal authorities to see if any can be matched to the homicide or other crimes.

The high level of attention police have given this case was apparent a week after the killing when homicide detectives blocked traffic on Reisterstown Road and handed out fliers pleading for witnesses to come forward.

The shooting angered a community struggling to fight off encroaching crime and prompted an expedited cleanup of a nearby Police Athletic League center and a dense patch of woods littered with broken appliances and empty drug vials. The gunman had disappeared into the thicket.

`Clean it up now'

"We need to clean it up now," said Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, who toured the overgrowth yesterday for a third time since the killing.

Frazier noted that public works crews have made great strides in clearing 600 feet of underbrush on publicly owned land in the area and are refurbishing ball fields next to the PAL center off Towanda Avenue, which attracts hundreds of youngsters a day.

"This is a real chance to create an institutional anchor in that neighborhood," Frazier said.

City officials thought at first that the 200-by-100-foot thicket was owned by CSX Railroad but have since learned the property belongs to S & G Concrete Co., on Grantley Avenue at the north end of what is called Towanda Woods.

Yesterday, city housing officials mailed an emergency cleanup notice to S & G, ordering company officials to remove trash and clear the underbrush in 72 hours, or face a city cleanup crew by Monday.

Michael Blevins, the company's assistant manager, said he received a call from housing officials informing him of the order. "We'll try our darndest" to clean up the area, he said. Given the short notice, Blevins said, he might be forced to pay the city to clean the land.

S & G Concrete bought the land two years ago, but Blevins said he did not know of any plans to expand into the woods. He said crews have cleaned the area twice, only to see it dumped on again.

`Community will prosper'

Jean Yarborough, president of Park Heights Community Association, said her neighborhood is making a strong comeback from crimes that claimed six lives in July. "I think this community will prosper," she said.

She said that Gamble "is going to be missed for years and years to come because of his service to the community."

Police said they are optimistic that the new information about the earlier robbery might lead to an arrest. They declined to release the victim's name because she is a potential witness in a homicide case.

The 51-year-old woman reported being attacked about 7 a.m. in the 4200 block of Park Heights Ave. at a bus stop two blocks from Gamble's house an hour and a half before he was shot.

The woman told police a man put a blue steel revolver against her head and said: "You know what time it is?" She said the man took her pocketbook containing $2 and ran up Oswego Avenue.

Revolver used

Police said they believe a revolver was used in Gamble's shooting and that the two crimes were committed by the same person.

Gamble's family members said they had not seen the composite drawing. Barnwell said he does not believe the gunman and his uncle knew each other.

"If the person knew who he was, I don't think he would have done what he did," Barnwell said. "If anyone had come up to [Gamble] and said, `Reverend, I'm stuck and I need a couple of dollars,' he would reach into his pocket and give it to them. He would always give a stranger money."

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