Police adjust manhunt tactics

Officials to redeploy forces today in search for Palczynski

March 16, 2000|By Joe Nawrozki and Jay Apperson | Joe Nawrozki and Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

Frustrated with their inability to track down an elusive multiple-murder suspect, Baltimore County police today will put fewer searchers in the field, as they redeploy their resources in the search for Joseph C. Palczynski.

"We don't need the same manpower on constant standby," said county police spokeswoman Cpl. Vickie Warehime. "The district officers will return to their normal patrol duties, but the special weapons and tactics and canine officers will stay on the search."

Warehime emphasized that it "is not a reduction in our forces. District officers will still be able to answer calls about possible sightings."

Officials said none of the items they have recovered from the search area, such as clothing and a backpack, could be linked to Palczynski, who is accused of killing four people last week. The 31-year-old has been on the run for eight days, eluding teams of police trackers, dogs and helicopters that have been searching mostly in woods and marshlands.

"We have gone over areas where we thought we'd find him or traces of him, and we have not found either," said Bill Toohey, a county police spokesman. He and others said they do not believe Palczynski has left the area.

As the search continued in Bowleys Quarters and Chase, county police said they found no apparent link between Palczynski and a killing and auto theft in Western Maryland. The body of Elsa Rodgers Naser, 64, of Grantsville, was found in the Flintstone area of Allegany County, and her 1993 Eagle Summit station wagon was stolen, officials said.

Hundreds of officers from Baltimore and neighboring counties, the FBI and the state Department of Natural Resources have been deployed in a 95-square-mile area of eastern Baltimore County. As many as 25 dogs were used, backed up by helicopters with heat-seeking capabilities and a robot that searched storm drains.

The search continues to disrupt daily life for residents. At Edgewood and Joppatowne high schools in Harford County, athletes practiced under the watch of sheriff's deputies and state police officers. In eastern Baltimore County, high school coaches were told to keep athletes away from wooded areas and to wait with students indoors until their rides arrived.

The round-the-clock effort has taken a toll on officers, who have searched since March 7, the night the killings began.

"My legs are cut up like ground beef from the bramble in the woods," said Officer Gary Inskeep, a veteran dog handler for Baltimore County who was stationed at the Middle River Volunteer Ambulance Rescue Co. station, the search command post.

"Call after call, nothing turning up, there is that danger of complacency setting in," said Officer John Doucet, an eight-year veteran of the Anne Arundel County special weapons and tactics team. "The way we go is prepare for the worst-case scenario, and that way you don't get hurt."

Officer Dave Lewis of the Maryland Park Ranger Service and Baltimore County Officer Jeff Blunt searched yesterday near Seneca Creek, each armed with a semiautomatic handgun; Lewis also carried a laser-sighted 12-gauge shotgun. They walked through thick stands of saplings, circled a shallow marsh pond and investigated a deer blind usually used by hunters.

"The woods aren't as bad as they could be in late spring. The leaves could have offered him much more cover," Lewis said.

Police say the rampage started at a Bowleys Quarters apartment complex where George Shenk, 49, and his wife Gloria, 50, were shot and killed. The Shenks had taken in Palczynski's ex-girlfriend, Tracy Whitehead, 22, after she filed assault charges against him March 4. Police say Palczynski abducted Whitehead from the Shenks' apartment and killed a neighbor, David M. Meyers, 42, who tried to help her.

The next night, police say, Palczynski fatally shot Jennifer McDonel, 37, and wounded a 2-year-old riding with his mother in another car during an attempted carjacking.

Palczynski is comfortable in the woods and is familiar with the terrain of eastern Baltimore County, where he played as a youngster and often spent extended periods camping as an adult.

By midweek, about 100 county police officers per shift were on the search, Toohey said.

With so much ground to cover, the state police, the FBI and law enforcement agencies from as far away as Washington County have sent help. A SWAT team from Anne Arundel County -- its members wearing helmets and armed with AR-15s, 12-gauge "shorty" shotguns and .40-caliber sidearms -- spent one morning this week poking through sheds, abandoned buildings and other sites where they thought Palczynski might have been.

Sun staff writers Nancy A. Youssef and Lynn Anderson contributed to this article.

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