A feared woman, 3 killings and allegations of voodoo

She collected benefits, is charged with fraud

December 08, 2001|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

GREENBELT - Before they were killed, Norman Stribbling, William Robert Gray and Clarence Goode each told friends that a dangerous woman was after them.

All three were shot to death, Stribbling in 1974, Gray in 1990 and Goode in 1996.

The woman they feared had been married to Stribbing and Gray and had been Goode's girlfriend.

Police and prosecutors say Josephine Gray escaped justice for 27 years by using violence and voodoo to intimidate people, according to papers released by court officials yesterday.

Gray, 55, of Upper Marlboro is charged in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt with mail and wire fraud for collecting $165,000 in life insurance benefits on policies for the men after she was "involved in" their deaths.

Her trial is scheduled to begin July 29.

According to federal court papers, Gray attacked all three victims in the weeks and months before they were killed.

Stribbling told friends weeks before he was killed in 1974 that his wife had tried to shoot him in the head one morning while they were in bed together. He survived because the gun misfired, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Trusty said.

Goode told police about two months before he was killed that Gray had assaulted him and pulled a knife on him, federal prosecutors said.

She went after William Gray with a screwdriver and a baseball bat, and a short time before he was killed chased him in her car so that her boyfriend could point a gun at him, Trusty said.

William Gray filed a complaint with Montgomery County police, and a few weeks before he was killed he told Detective Joseph Mudano, "I believe I'm going to get killed," Mudano testified.

When he was found shot to death in his apartment in Germantown a few weeks later, Gray was carrying Mudano's business card.

Prosecutors say Gray used voodoo to put a hex on the police officers investigating her in 1991.

"Ms. Gray has been intimately involved in the practice of voodoo for a long time," Trusty told Magistrate Judge Jillyn K. Schulze in Greenbelt at a hearing Nov. 15, shortly after Gray's arrest.

"People surrounding her believe that somehow she has that ability to harm people, whether it is the indirect mystical way of voodoo or the direct way of committing homicides with firearms," Trusty told Schulze, according to a transcript of the hearing that was released yesterday.

Home wiretapped

Trusty said police wiretapped Gray's home in 1991 and that the device recorded "a ritual" in which she mentioned the investigators working on the case.

"She wished them harm," Trusty told Schulze.

Gray's relatives refused requests for an interview yesterday. Her lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Michael T. CitaraManis, also declined to comment on the case.

During a hearing Tuesday to argue for Gray's release, CitaraManis told U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow that much of the government's case is based on statements made more than 20 years ago.

"It's a case that has holes in it already," CitarManis said. "There's going to be more holes in it as the case goes on."

Gray was charged with murder in the deaths of Stribbling and Gray by Montgomery County prosecutors in 1990, based in part on statements to police from Gray's brother, Donald Mills, and her daughter, Regina Gray

Mudano said charges were dropped when Gray's brother and daughter recanted their incriminating statements after she was released on bond.

"They were afraid," Mudano said in testimony at the hearing Nov. 15.

Thomas Tamm, a former Montgomery County prosecutor, testified that a number of other potential witnesses "expressed fear" of Gray.

"I would say that fear permeated the case," Tamm told Schulze.

Mudano said he went to federal prosecutors with the case about a year ago, approaching Trusty because he knew him as a former Montgomery County prosecutor.

The detective testified that Gray threatened to kill her boyfriend, Andre Savoy, over the summer. She also called Savoy from a federal detention facility Nov. 13 and warned him to "take the Fifth" Amendment and remain silent, rather than testify against her, Mudano told Schulze.

CitarManis said Gray might have been warning Savoy not to testify because he could implicate himself and face prosecution based on what he said.

"It would probably be wise for some people close to Ms. Gray to take the Fifth and obtain counsel if they're being pressured by the government," he said.

CitaraManis said some of the potential witnesses against Gray might be relatives who have been involved in disputes over the insurance proceeds, he said.

Disputes over insurance

Some of Gray's critics have been involved in disputes over insurance proceeds, according to court records.

In a suit filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court in 1998, Clarence Goode's relatives argued that Gray should have been barred from collecting on a $100,000 policy on Goode's life. Goode was shot in the back, and his body was found in the trunk of his car in West Baltimore on June 21, 1996.

Vernie Goode, Goode's brother, said Gray ignored his brother's request that she stay away when he began seeing another woman.

"My brother was scared of this woman," Goode wrote in a 1998 letter to the city Circuit Court.

Gray is not the first woman accused of using voodoo in a case in which victims were killed for insurance money.

Geraldine Parrish, a storefront preacher from East Baltimore, is in prison, sentenced to multiple life terms, after being convicted in 1989 of arranging the murders of four friends and relatives to collect on their insurance policies.

Sun staff writers Michael Scarcella and Caitlin Francke contributed to this article.

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