Fugitive and hostage take a strange journey of faith

This Just In...

March 22, 2000|By DAN RODRICKS

QUESTIONS ON a lot of minds: Why did William L. "Louis" Terrell wait six hours before telling Baltimore County police of his encounter with Joseph C. "Joby" Palczynski? How could he have slept while an alleged killer was on the loose?

Those questions have been lingering since we first heard the story of how Palczynski, who left Maryland after allegedly killing four people here, knocked on Terrell's farmhouse door in Woodford, Va., and forced the 54-year-old man at gunpoint to drive him back to Bowleys Quarters.

It happened Friday, March 10, which seems like a year ago now to anyone -- especially people who live on Lange Street -- who watched the hostage drama unfold in Dundalk.

Terrell's odyssey ended with this fact: After driving for 14 hours, with stops for supplies, he dropped Palczynski off near his home on Carrollwood Road in Bowleys Quarters at 10 minutes to midnight. Instead of driving away and calling police, Terrell slept for the next six hours in his Dodge Ram.

After awakening early on March 11, he drove to a 7-Eleven store on Bowleys Quarters Road -- by then, police had his truck under surveillance -- and went inside to buy orange juice. He says he was getting ready to call 911 when police surrounded him, guns drawn.

That has struck a lot of people as odd from the first time it was reported.

Why didn't Louis Terrell drive immediately to a pay phone or police station after he'd left Palczynski off in the darkness?

The answer lies somewhere in the strange bond that formed between Terrell and Palczynski during the 14-hour trip.

Terrell is a Jehovah's Witness elder, and he saw his ordeal as an opportunity. Maybe he could help this Joby see the light. Maybe he could talk him into surrendering to police. To achieve those ends -- and to keep from becoming a homicide victim himself -- Terrell needed to establish some trust. "I'm a Jehovah's Witness who values life more than possessions," he told Palczynski. "I won't lie to you and I won't lie for you."

During the long drive back to Maryland, after Joe Palczynski explained how he'd become a paranoid, red-eyed fugitive with a gun, Terrell started telling him old stories, some of the oldest in human history. He thought it would help.

"When we started out, [Palczynski] said he'd done some bad things," Terrell said yesterday from his home in Virginia.

Later, Palczynski got more specific. He struck Terrell as remorseful. But paranoid and desperate.

"He'd said he was going to kill himself or that the police would kill him," Terrell recalled. "But [later] during the trip he said he didn't want to die. I told him, `Where there's life, there's hope,' and that no matter what he'd done, no matter how bad it was, if he had the courage and the humility to turn himself in Jehovah God was ready to help. He would give [Palczynski] the opportunity to do good, do right. I said there were several examples of that in the Bible, men who had been redeemed."

Palczynski asked him to cite an example.

"I told him the story of David," Terrell said. "You know the story of David and Bathsheba?"

I told Terrell I needed a refresher.

"King David was at war, and he looked down from the roof of his palace and saw Bathsheba taking a bath," Terrell said. "And he's quite taken with her."

According to the Old Testament, David took Bathsheba to his bed and she became pregnant. Bathsheba was the wife of one of David's best soldiers, Uriah. The way Terrell tells it, David schemed to have Uriah taken away from the battlefield to be with his wife -- so Bathsheba's pregnancy would appear to be his responsibility. "But Uriah was too much of a military man and he would not sleep in his house," Terrell said. "So David devised a plan to get Uriah killed. He has him put on the front line [of battle] and he is killed. Afterward, David took Bathsheba as his wife."

Still later, the story goes, David confessed his sin in the presence of Nathan the prophet. He did not make excuses. He simply said, "I have sinned."

As he drove Joby Palczynski back to Maryland, Louis Terrell cited the 51st Psalm: "Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness [and] unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgression. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me."

Terrell told more Bible stories as he drove and again later, near Baltimore, as he and Palczynski stopped to rest by the Patapsco River in the early evening. At one point, Palczynski scratched his mother's name into a rock by the river. He asked Terrell to remember the spot and to show the markings to his mother one day.

As the evening wore on, Terrell kept doing as Palczynski instructed. Twice during the trip, he went into stores, including one in White Marsh, to buy supplies for Palczynski. The fugitive stayed in the truck both times and warned Terrell to be snappy about getting back.

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