Former teacher is focus of hunt

Ex-Howard instructor has eluded capture for eight months

November 21, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

The last time the Rev. David Albert Farmer saw Klaude Krannebitter, he knew his friend was having legal problems.

But it wasn't until after Farmer bid his friend farewell in late May -- sending Krannebitter, who'd asked to spend the night, on his way after dinner instead -- that the pastor learned the depths of those troubles.

"I've relived the situation many times in my mind," Farmer said this week. "If I had any clue what was going on, I wouldn't have let him leave my house."

That dinner in Farmer's Delaware home was the pastor's last contact with the former Howard County schoolteacher, who has eluded capture since failing to report March 7 to the county jail for a six-month sentence stemming from a conviction for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. With his picture featured in the local news, Krannebitter, who also faced legal woes in Baltimore County and Baltimore, was soon fired from his role in a Maryland Arts Festival concert at Towson University and went into hiding.

Krannebitter's eight months on the run have befuddled his friends and family and vaulted him to the top of the Howard County sheriff's department's most-wanted list -- a designation more commonly reserved for the most violent crimes, rather than the misdemeanor that resulted in Krannebitter's jail sentence.

But Howard County deputies who have been searching for Krannebitter for months say the "brazen way" he has avoided them and the nature of the conviction are cause for concern. Krannebitter was convicted last year in Howard and Baltimore counties for 1999 offenses related to a 15-year-old boy. According to authorities, the boy told them Krannebitter, now 38, paid him to perform sex acts.

Krannebitter, a teacher at Glenwood Middle School for 12 years, resigned from his teaching job after his arrest and started a landscaping business, according to friends and court testimony.

Deputies have watched Krannebitter's Catonsville house and followed numerous leads in and out of the state, including one in Massachusetts, for eight months. They even went to a scheduled rehearsal for a Maryland Arts Festival performance of Some Enchanted Evening in early June after learning that Krannebitter had been cast in the production. "We have been as close as 15 minutes behind him on several occasions and just couldn't bring it all together," said Sgt. Bryan K. Waser, who supervises the sheriff's department's fugitive unit. No new leads have emerged since September, Waser said.

Krannebitter's disappearance is troubling for Farmer and for Kelly Krannebitter, Klaude's younger sister, who say they fear for his well-being. They say the long silence is out of character for a man who spent years teaching and coaching high school athletics in Howard County, and was well known in the theater community.

Growing nervous

Farmer, who met Krannebitter when he was pastor at University Baptist Church in Baltimore, said he suspects Krannebitter became nervous as the time approached for him to report to jail -- despite the possibility a judge wouldn't send him to jail. Judge Lenore R. Gelfman had given Krannebitter a year to report to jail, an arrangement some judges have used to give defendants a chance to prove that they can function lawfully in society and should be given probation instead of jail time.

At Krannebitter's sentencing hearing last year, Gelfman gave him probation before judgment for driving while intoxicated and six months on the delinquency charge, suggesting he seek a court hearing before he was due to report to the detention center.

A hearing was initially set for the end of February -- about two weeks before the start of his sentence March 7 this year -- but was delayed until March 30. When Krannebitter failed to show at the jail and for the hearing, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.

Gelfman said recently that she could not comment on the case because it is pending.

Krannebitter also failed to appear at hearings in Baltimore County, where he was placed on probation last year for a conviction stemming from his contact with the teen, and in Baltimore, where he was charged with driving while intoxicated in January, according to court records.

Communications stopped

Kelly Krannebitter said that her brother, who has always been in close contact with his family, began communicating through messages instead of live conversations in the spring. But those communications stopped when the case received news coverage, after it was discovered in late May that Klaude Krannebitter had never reported to jail but was scheduled to perform in the arts festival concert.

Towson officials sent Krannebitter a "termination" notice after learning of his fugitive status, said Michael J. Decker, the festival's former artistic director.

The family hasn't heard from Krannebitter since summer, when he sent cards apologizing and saying he loved them, his sister said.

Sun staff writer Joan Jacobson contributed to this article.

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