Charges of fraud, hints of murder

Woman collected insurance in killings of 2 husbands, friend

November 29, 2001|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

GREENBELT - A 55-year-old grandmother, feared by relatives for her knowledge of voodoo, is accused in federal court papers of causing the murders of two husbands and a boyfriend for $170,000 in life insurance benefits.

Josephine Virginia Gray of Upper Marlboro was arraigned yesterday on wire and mail fraud charges that stem from her collecting benefits over a 22-year period after her husbands were shot to death in Montgomery County and a boyfriend was killed in Baltimore.

Gray was indicted in the Montgomery County killings in 1974 and 1990, but prosecutors dropped the charges before trial in each case because of insufficient evidence.

"Witnesses recanted, and some witnesses couldn't be found to testify at trial," said Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, who did not handle either case but has reviewed the evidence.

In a federal indictment handed up this month and unsealed this week, Gray is charged with defrauding three insurance companies by collecting payments for death benefits after the killings of her first husband, Norman Stribbling, in 1974; her second husband, William Robert Gray, in 1990; and her boyfriend, Clarence Goode, in 1996.

The eight-count indictment alleges that Gray "intentionally caused the death" of all three victims.

Gray was arraigned yesterday before Magistrate Judge Charles B. Day in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

Dressed in a green sweat shirt and gray sweat pants, she sat quietly as Day offered to read the indictment and set a tentative trial date of Jan. 15. She made no comment as she was led out of the courtroom by a deputy marshal.

If convicted on all counts, she could be sentenced to 40 years in prison and $2 million in fines.

Gray is described in court papers as a mother of six and a grandmother of 11 who retired after 27 years as a custodian in the Montgomery County schools. Before her arrest, she provided day-care services in the Prince George's County home where she has lived for 11 years.

"Mrs. Gray has no record of criminal convictions," Michael T. Citaramanis, an assistant federal public defender, wrote in arguing for her release.

But Gray was ordered held without bail Nov. 15, after Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sandra Wilkinson and James Trusty told a federal judge that she had threatened a witness during the federal investigation.

Gray's relatives feared Gray because of the alleged violence and her interest and use of voodoo, prosecutors said.

When police searched Gray's home in 1990, Gansler said, they found "dolls with pins in them" and other voodoo paraphernalia.

"The evidence was that there were those kinds of activities that would go on in her house," said John McCarthy, a Montgomery County deputy state's attorney.

Stribbling, Gray's first husband, was shot in the head March 4, 1974, according to papers filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

She was charged by Montgomery County police that year with conspiring with William Gray, who would become her second husband, to murder Stribbling, court records show.

She used some of the insurance proceeds from her first husband's death to purchase a house in Gaithersburg with her second husband in 1975.

Montgomery County prosecutors dropped the charges after two key witnesses - Gray's brother and a cousin - disappeared and could not be located before trial, according to court records.

Soon after, Gray married William Gray, who was found shot to death in his Germantown apartment Nov. 9, 1990.

After William Gray's death, an informant told police that Gray's wife had been trying for months to find practitioners of voodoo to kill her husband, according to charging documents in Montgomery County Circuit Court. The papers said she wanted Gray killed because he was "stirring up trouble" about what had happened to her first husband.

In 1991, a Montgomery County grand jury indicted Gray and Goode, a second cousin with whom she became romantically involved, for first-degree murder in the killing of William Gray.

Goode agreed to testify against Gray, but charges against both suspects were eventually dropped because of insufficient evidence, Gansler said.

Gansler said yesterday that his office is assisting federal prosecutors and working with county police to see if there is enough evidence to bring Gray to trial in the Montgomery County killings.

No charges were ever filed against Gray in the shooting of Goode in Baltimore on June 21, 1996.

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