Russell M. Wilhelm, 87, national firearms expert, mason

April 15, 2000|By Nora Koch | Nora Koch,SUN STAFF

Russell M. Wilhelm, a Baltimore firearms expert who testified before Congress about evidence from the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., died Tuesday of pulmonary blockage at Sinai Hospital. He was 87.

A lifelong Poplar Hill resident, Mr. Wilhelm attended Polytechnic Institute and joined the Baltimore City Police Department in 1939 as a patrol officer. He graduated from the city police criminal investigation school and became a ballistics examiner in 1951. He worked on the criminal evidence team, doing fingerprint identification, crime scene searches and photography, and retired in 1966 as a sergeant and senior examiner.

He joined the Maryland State Police four months later, starting the state's firearms identification unit. He retired from the state police in 1979.

"He was one of the premier firearms examiners and actually one of the foremost authorities on the subject," said William Welch, a state police colleague of Mr. Wilhelm's for seven years. "He was very patient, very precise, knowledgeable and dedicated the epitome of" professionalism.

In August 1977, Mr. Wilhelm was one of five national firearms experts called to review the FBI evidence and investigation of the King assassination. He testified about his findings before the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Investigations.

As head of the city and state ballistics units, Mr. Wilhelm testified in more than 200 court cases and was a frequent lecturer at schools and police training programs. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Science and served on the board of directors of the Association of Firearms and Tool Marks Examiners.

Mr. Wilhelm was a member of the John H. B. Latrobe Masonic Lodge No. 165 in Cockeysville and attended Mount Washington United Methodist Church, where he served on the church board and was active in the mens club. He was a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association and earned the group's master ranking for handguns.

He enjoyed golfing, traveling and gardening. After his retirement from the state police, Mr. Wilhelm frequently fished and hunted with friends on Taylor's Island.

Services will be held at noon Monday at J. J. Hartenstein Mortuary in New Freedom, Pa. He will be buried at Mount Zion Cemetery in Freeland.

He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Marjorie Getz Wilhelm; a son, Charles F. Wilhelm of Baltimore; and three grandchildren.

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