A 56-year-old Mount Airy man was charged yesterday with murder in the February disappearance of a psychologist with the National Science Foundation to whom he owed more than $300,000, according to Maryland State Police and Carroll County prosecutors.
Contractor Randall Henry Gerlach was arrested yesterday morning without incident at his home in the 13000 block of Manor Drive, Frederick County, said Maj. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman. He was being held without bail last night on a charge of first-degree murder and is scheduled to appear this morning in Carroll County District Court.
Rodney R. Cocking was last seen at his home in the 2800 block of Sams Creek Road in Taylorsville on Feb. 23, talking to Gerlach, the contractor who did home repairs for him and who later drove away alone, investigators said.
The body of the 59-year-old academic has not been recovered, Shipley said, despite a search of "construction sites, secluded areas, fields and bodies of water" in the Mount Airy area. Investigators think Cocking was wounded or killed at his home the day he disappeared and that his body was taken away.
A search of a 1993 Toyota pickup truck owned by the suspect turned up blood in the bed and undercarriage, along with a loaded .22-caliber Marlin rifle, Shipley said. The blood matched samples from Cocking's home, he said, but the weapon used in the alleged killing has not been identified.
This is the first case in Carroll County in which murder charges have been filed "absent the recovery of the victim," said State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes, although such prosecutions have become increasingly common nationwide.
The prosecutor characterized the relationship between victim and suspect as "friends and business associates." Police and prosecutors said money was the motive in the killing and the investigation is continuing.
Gerlach was identified in charging documents as "a homebuilder-remodeler-real estate developer," operating under the company name of Charles M. Gerlach & Son Inc. The loans from Cocking were for supposed real estate development with promises of high-yield returns.
A search of Cocking's home computer found that he had expected repayment by Feb. 1 of more than $300,000 for numerous deposits to Gerlach, beginning with $10,000 in July 1994 - supposed investments in a land-development business, Shipley said.
A search of Gerlach's home office yielded 10 boxes of papers, including a folder with 15 promissory notes on loans from Cocking totaling $270,000 from June 1999 to March of last year, according to the inch-thick charging documents.
The charging documents alleged that in a related "interstate, high-dollar mail fraud and theft scheme," Gerlach also had defrauded other supposed investors, including his in-laws, of more than $500,000. The documents, which detail considerable debts owed by Gerlach, alleged that the money went into his personal and business accounts, and for a trip to England and Ireland, as well as "juggling money to stay financially afloat."
Cocking was a respected academic at the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va., where he was director of the Developmental and Learning Sciences program of the division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences. After his disappearance, his sister and some NSF colleagues said they feared the worst. From the start, police treated the case seriously.
"In some sense, it's a relief, but it also reinstates our grief at losing our valuable friend and colleague," said Joseph L. Young, acting director of Cocking's program, who had known him for 20 years.
"I don't know whether you feel good, but you feel some relief that the process of bringing the alleged perpetrator to justice has begun," Young said.
After Cocking was reported missing by a friend, investigators studied bloodstains found in his garage and driveway, which it seemed someone had tried to clean, Shipley said.
When questioned, Gerlach told police Cocking had suitcases that morning and said he was going on a long trip, according to charging documents. However, Cocking had left behind important items, including medication, and had never failed to show up for work before, authorities said.