Killing puts midtown on alert

Young chef's death may hinder effort to rebuild in area

March 24, 2000|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Maybe it was the baggy white pants decorated with jalapenos that made Mark Tilley stand out among fellow chefs. Maybe it was his signature dish, a twist on crab cakes -- a recipe he kept secret even from his grandmother.

Tilley, the 31-year-old assistant chef at the Country Club of Maryland on Stevenson Lane in Towson, was shot and killed Wednesday night at his midtown Baltimore apartment in the 1600 block of St. Paul St., apparently by someone who broke in and confronted him in his living room.

Tilley's death has stunned his family and raised questions about the safety of an enclave across from Penn Station that is attracting young professionals eager to make a life in the city and renovate century-old rowhouses north of downtown.

"I just can't imagine how somebody could do this to Mark," said his grandmother, Hortense Grant, 74.

Police reported no leads in the city's 56th homicide of the year.

Investigators said Tilley was shot several times about 7: 45 p.m. by an intruder in the first-floor apartment of the honey-colored brick rowhouse. Police would not say how the entry was made or if anything was missing.

Detective Gregory S. MacGillivary of the homicide unit said a neighbor called 911 at 7: 49 p.m. and reported a breaking and entering. Officers arrived to find Tilley dead.

Relatives said Tilley had just returned home from the hospital and was recovering from tonsillitis. His wife, Caroline W. Mugera, had gone to the store to get crackers and returned to find detectives in her apartment.

Tilley, a 1986 graduate of Randallstown High School and later from Baltimore International Culinary College, had moved to St. Paul Street in the past year. His front window overlooks a Penn Station parking lot and is one block from a police kiosk.

The Charles North neighborhood is a community in transition. Its streets are used by rail commuters and patrons of the Charles Theater, but also by prostitutes and heroin addicts who patronize dealers on Guilford Avenue.

"We're working very hard to shut down the drug trade," said Charles Smith, the director of operations for the MidTown Community Benefits District, which raises a special tax to pay for seven private security guards.

He said it has been a month since the last burglary, but someone tried to break into a house a few doors from Tilley's on March 4. The biggest problem, he said, was a spate of car break-ins, seven in the past weekend.

Smith noted that a new bike trail and a plaza and fountain will be built soon at St. Paul and Lanvale streets. People are buying the Edwardian-style rowhouses, built about 1910, and restoring the community's long-lost luster.

"It is a terrible blow for something like this to happen on this block," Smith said of the shooting.

Tilley grew up in Baltimore's suburbs and lived in Columbia before moving to the city less than a year ago. He had recently married Mugera and was planning a second wedding in his bride's native country, Kenya.

His grandmother, Grant, said she used to follow Tilley from restaurant to restaurant -- he worked at Harvey's at Greenspring Station before the country club -- to sample his food.

She said "seafood was his specialty. He made the best crab cakes in Maryland." Asked how he did that, Grant paused and then said: "I don't know. He wouldn't tell me."

Dan Streett, 41, the executive chef at the country club, described Tilley as a flashy dresser who wore "crazy chef's pants" with pictures of food on them.

"We're going to miss him around here," Streett said.

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