Robot assists fugitive search

Manhunt for fugitive accused in 4 killings includes storm drains

Route to store checked

Clothing, bedding found in woods might be Palczynski's

March 14, 2000|By Nancy A. Youssef and Dennis O'Brien | Nancy A. Youssef and Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

The search for Joseph C. Palczynski focused yesterday on storm drains and wooded terrain in eastern Baltimore County, where police discovered clothing and bedding they say might have belonged to the fugitive.

Palczynski eluded police for the sixth day, despite a search that involved a robot working underground, 20 dogs and dozens of officers who combed miles of parklands.

County tactical officers brought in the robot about 6 p.m. yesterday to search a storm drain that begins near Eastern Boulevard and runs several hundred yards underground toward Carroll Island Road.

Cpl. Vickie Warehime, a county police spokeswoman, said police think Palczynski might be using that pipe or others in the neighborhood to travel between a 7-Eleven store, where there have been unconfirmed sightings of him, and nearby railroad tracks.

"They believe this is his method of transportation," Warehime said.

County Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan said the clothing and bedding are being tested to determine whether Palczynski used them. "We are processing it now," he said.

Palczynski is wanted in the shooting deaths March 7 of George Shenk, 49, and Gloria Jean Shenk, 50, a husband and wife who had taken in Palczynski's former girlfriend, Tracy Whitehead.

Police say Palczynski abducted Whitehead from the Shenks' Bowley Quarters home and killed a neighbor, David Meyers, 42, who tried to help her.

Palczynski also is accused of fatally shooting Jennifer L. McDonel, 36, the next night during a carjacking on Ebenezer Road.

Evaluation ordered

As the search continued yesterday, a magistrate in U.S. District Court in Baltimore ordered an Essex housewife, who is charged with buying two guns allegedly used in the rampage, held for a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether she is mentally fit for trial.

Magistrate Judge James K. Bredar ordered the evaluation for Constance A. Waugh, 48, after she appeared to be dazed in the courtroom.

Waugh, who needed to be guided to the trial table by federal agents, told Bredar that she takes medication for anxiety problems and Buerger's disease, a circulatory disorder, and has been without her medicines since her arrest Friday.

Officers who interviewed Waugh yesterday told the judge that Waugh thought she was in a bread truck during the session. They said she also thought that one of the federal agents who arrested her was the driver of the truck and that he had worked with her, Bredar said.

"In light of that, the degree of that confusion, I have grave concerns about her mental status," Bredar said.

James Webster, assistant U.S. attorney, said the competency hearing will be held within 30 days.

Waugh could face up to 10 years in prison on a charge of making a false or fictitious statement to a federally licensed firearms dealer, he said.

A federal affidavit alleges that Waugh admitted to two Baltimore County police detectives that she bought the guns for Palczynski, saying she had known him since he was a child.

"Mrs. Waugh invited the detectives inside and informed them that she knew `Joby' very well," the affidavit said. Joby is Palczynski's boyhood nickname.

"Waugh said she asked Palczynski why he needed her help and he said he could not buy the guns himself because he has a criminal record for assault," the affidavit said. "Waugh also said Palczynski said he wanted the guns to go target shooting at his brother's house in Virginia."

Waugh told the detectives that Palczynski "asked her if he could store the guns in her house after he went target shooting," and she agreed, according to the affidavit.

He never came back.

Police found the Mossberg shotgun and the AR-15 rifle in the vehicle they say Palczynski carjacked Wednesday. Investigators suspect that the weapons were used in the four killings.

In Middle River yesterday, dozens of police officers searching for Palczynski walked about 50 yards apart through a densely wooded area covering portions of Dundee Saltpeter Park and Gunpowder Falls State Park.

Residents of Gracewood Drive, on the fringes of the search site, said they were unnerved that Palczynski could be nearby.

"It's strange. I wish it would all end. I keep my dog inside and the lights on all night," said William Sims, 53, who lives across the street from Gunpowder Falls State Park. "Every time my dog barks, I get up and look, no matter what time it is. You never know."

Police think Palczynski, a lifelong outdoorsman who grew up in Bowleys Quarters, is in the area because it is where he is most comfortable.

Police believe Palczynski purchased equipment in Virginia and at an outdoors store in Baltimore County that he needs to survive in the woods.

"We think he has a shovel, large folding knife, camouflage clothing, dehydrated food, cigarette lighter, thermal socks, water bottles, sleeping bag and at least two nylon carrying bags," said county police Capt. John Gaither.

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