Slaying of student remains mystery

Way Back When

Homicide: In 1954, Carolyn Wasilewski stepped out in curlers to meet a girlfriend. She never came back.

March 18, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

In his column last week, Jacques Kelly referred to the 1954 murder of Carolyn Wasilewski, the 14-year-old Morrell Park resident whose battered and partially nude body was found on the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks beneath the old Belvedere Avenue bridge, now Northern Parkway.

Today, while File No. 1625 marked "Carolyn Loretta Wasilewski" still sits in the Baltimore Police Department's homicide unit, unsolved, little remains of the once semi-rural nature of the crime scene.

The spidery two-lane iron bridge was replaced by a four-lane concrete one spanning the Jones Falls Valley. Its ramps funnel traffic on and off the Jones Falls Expressway, which was built through the area in the early 1960s.

It was a crime so shocking that it set off one of the most intensive manhunts in Baltimore police history. Yet, what happened to Carolyn Wasilewski on the evening of Nov. 8, 1954, continues to remain just that, a mystery.

That evening, Wasilewski, a Southern High School student who resided at 3121 Mardel Ave., was the eldest of seven children and had a reputation for running with a fast crowd, told her family she was going to meet a girlfriend and register for a winter dance program at Morrell Park Elementary School.

That Monday evening was the last time they saw her alive.

Wasilewski, who was also known as Carolyn Wells, left home at 6: 15 p.m. dressed in a pink sweater, black skirt with pink and blue arrowhead-shaped figures and a black corduroy jacket. A black scarf was knotted at her neck, and her hair, which was in curlers, was covered by a green scarf.

She failed to keep a planned rendezvous with Peggy Lamana, a 16-year-old friend who lived in a nearby Washington Boulevard trailer park and also planned to register for the dance.

Wasilewski's parents spent an anxious night searching for their daughter and hoping she would return.

The next morning, an engineer on a Pennsy express train bound to Baltimore from Harrisburg spotted the crumpled body lying on the tracks at 7 a.m. Had the police been a few minutes later, the Parkton Local, a commuter train following the express, due to pass the spot at 7: 17 p.m., would have destroyed all evidence.

"The train slowed down, and no one knew what the hell was going on," said passenger Bill Stump, a feature writer for The Sunday Sun Magazine in 1954.

"We were diverted to another track and as we passed we saw people milling around and Wasilewski's body covered by canvas."

"I didn't find out what had happened until we got off the train at Calvert Station and I went into the Sunpapers," Stump said yesterday.

Wasilewski's shoes and skirt were missing. Written on her right thigh in lipstick or Mercurochrome was the name Paul.

The medical examiner reported that the cause of death was a skull fracture and there was "no evidence of violent sexual attack." He placed the time of death at 11 p.m. The last train to pass under the Belvedere bridge was at 10: 30 p.m.

"Long before she was identified police had concluded that the murder had occurred elsewhere and she had been thrown from the bridge or dragged down a bank to the tracks," reported The Sun.

Eight miles away on Gable Avenue, near Wasilewski's home, police found bloodstains and personal items belonging to the victim. It confirmed their theory the she had been beaten to death in a vacant lot near the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad's Mount Winans yard.

Scores of people were brought in for questioning, including "drape friends of the slain girl," said the Evening Sun. The eventual number would top 300.

Later that week, Ralph Garrett, 45, who lived near the murder scene and was said to have been seen talking with the victim, was found hanging by a belt from the brake wheel of a gondola sitting on a siding in the rail yard. The car stood opposite the vacant lot where the attack had taken place.

Police later concluded that Garrett's death was not related and that he had been an apparent suicide.

Crowds and the simply curious arrive at the Charles W. Kachauskas Funeral Home in the 600 block of Washington Boulevard to view Wasilewski's body resting in a cloth-covered casket.

"The burial dress of the blond high school student was a flowing blue negligee, which completely covered evidence of the brutal treatment which resulted in her death," reported the Evening Sun.

"A simple carnation corsage rested on her left shoulder over a sheer lace jacket, and a cameo pendant hung at her neck. In her hands a shiny rosary reflected the gentle gleam of the flickering candles," the newspaper observed.

On Nov. 12, with her girlfriends acting as pallbearers, Wasilewski's casket was carried into St. Peter the Apostle Roman Catholic Church at Poppleton and Hollins streets, where the Rev. A. Dubinskas, the church's pastor, offered a Requiem Mass.

She was buried in Holy Redeemer Cemetery near the grave of her grandfather.

"Although Carolyn had gained a reputation for living beyond her tender years, the last rites were those for a little girl," said the newspaper.

Interest in the case still surfaces occasionally, said Donald Worden, a retired homicide detective who now works as a consultant helping the agency with old, hard-to-solve cases.

"We still get calls generally around the anniversary of the murder," he said. "And the case still remains open."

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