Death in the park

Homeless couple: Brutal double murder is no less horrific because of victims' circumstances.

March 29, 2002

HER NAME may have been Brenda. And she once loved a guy named Frank. And she's dead.

That's all there is to know right now about the woman who was found lying at Baltimore's Reed Bird Island Park in a cobbled-together shack of board wood and an old mattress. She didn't die alone; by her side was the body of Douglas Holquist, 53, whose brother found the two last Saturday.

They were homeless, this pair, but they had made a home nonetheless: a makeshift shelter, a line strung from tree to tree for clothes. Maybe a smoky fire on chilly nights. They were have-nots hanging on in a have-it-all world and making do.

And sometime in the winter, somebody came and beat them to death. Police say they died of blunt-force trauma, perhaps more than a month ago. After that, their bodies lay there, through the dry days and in the rain, until Mr. Holquist's brother came looking. And found him.

Murders happen with alarming frequency in this city and in this country. But there is something particularly troubling about gratuitous violence against those among us who, for reasons as plentiful as bad news, have been overtaken by misfortune. Did the murderer or murderers take this for sport? Did they think these lives didn't count?

If so, they were badly mistaken. Mr. Holquist had a family that grieves for him - a father, a son, a sister waiting to bury his remains. And his companion, with her devotion to "Frank" tattooed on her body, was once someone's child, someone's friend, perhaps someone's mother.

Beyond that small universe of mourners, though, our larger society has reason to care deeply about Mr. Holquist and the woman who might have been Brenda. Because once we stop caring about them and their fate, we have lost something even more important than those two lives. We have lost our communal soul.

The police have few clues, but as with most crimes, somebody knows something. Somebody always does. It is as important to find the killer of these two as it would be if they had been the most affluent couple in the toniest neighborhood in town. In fact, it's even more so.

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