Search continues for Carroll psychologist

Police find no clues in man's home or car

March 04, 2002|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A respected psychologist with the National Science Foundation who lives in Carroll County disappeared last week in a case that has baffled Maryland State Police.

Rodney Robert Cocking, 59, of the 2800 block of Sams Creek Road in Taylorsville, roughly 12 miles southwest of Westminster, was last seen about 9:30 a.m. Feb. 23, the same day he was expecting a friend from out of state to visit, police said. The friend first reported Cocking missing, police said.

Police found Cocking's Lexus sport utility vehicle abandoned in the parking lot of a Food Lion store in Mount Airy about 8:30 p.m. Feb. 24. No evidence of tampering or foul play turned up in a search of the vehicle, they said.

A search of Cocking's home turned up nothing, said Lt. Terry L. Katz, commander of the Westminster state police barracks. No unusual credit card charges have been made on his account, he said.

"In our business, unfortunately, you suspect bad things and hope for good things," said Katz. He said extra investigators had been working on the case the last week. He said Cocking's disappearance was "absolutely" unusual.

"He lived a very defined life," Katz said. "With all these things, you would normally be able to find something. But we have nothing - no one - despite going to virtually every associate."

Detective Sgt. Andrew Winner, who is handling the case, said the police have reinterviewed everyone in the case, but found no clues. "Nothing leads us to believe there was foul play at this point," he said, but "it's completely out of character for him. Even people that don't do police work wonder what's going on here."

"We are very, very worried about this guy. We've been looking since the report came in," Winner said. "We are looking for anyone who might know anything. We've spoken to dozens of people - associates, friends, co-workers."

Cocking rarely missed work but has not been to his job at the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va., since Feb. 22, said William H. Harms, a spokesman for the federal agency, which handles grants for scientific research. The foundation has put out an internal memorandum asking for information from anyone might have spoken with him that day.

"He was just a very happy and well-respected employee," said Harms. "He came to work, he did his job. He's a happy co-worker and now he's gone. We hope he's well."

Cocking was the program director in the Developmental and Learning Sciences program, under the division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences. He was planning work this week on a new publication, Harms said.

Cocking, who earned a doctorate in psychology at Cornell University, primarily reviewed grant proposals for university research on child development, Harms said. His published works from 1977 to 1996 included writing and editing in the areas of cognitive development from childhood to adolescence, preschool language development, influences in learning mathematics, minority child development, and cultural and video influences, according to the foundation.

He also was the study director for a well-known National Research Council project on "How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School," which resulted in a book, Harms said.

Cocking did not have a private psychology practice.

At the Taylorsville 7-Eleven store where employees said Cocking stopped four or five times a week, he wasn't known as a scientist - just as a friendly customer.

"He came in here all the time," said owner Valerie Bohn. The store's security videotapes from the weekend Cocking disappeared had been reset by the time the police asked for them.

Property records show he moved to his home on a wooded 4-acre lot in 1990.

Diane Chester Chaney, his next-door neighbor for more than a decade, is among those worried about him.

"Over the years, we would say hello - usually when we were out shoveling the driveway - but we didn't know him that well," she said. "He was a very quiet man who lived alone and kept to himself. And our lots are so big, we never would have known if there was a problem. We can't even see his house from ours."

Nonetheless, Chaney said, "I feel really bad about it. Nobody deserves that. This is a quiet area. We are all concerned about the circumstances surrounding his disappearance."

Anyone with information about Cocking's disappearance should call state police at 410-386-3000.

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