Annapolis killings fuel fear of crime in affluent regions

Death of homeless man found on lawn is area's 2nd slaying in 3 weeks

October 08, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

The weekend killing of a homeless man in an affluent neighborhood in downtown Annapolis has renewed fears of crime in a city still shaken from a killing in the historic district three weeks ago.

The victims and the means of death were different, but both crimes occurred on quiet, dead-end streets in wealthy areas where violent crime mostly is relegated to television.

For residents of Murray Hill - a downtown neighborhood with wide yards and large homes - that sense of security was shattered Saturday when a Stewart Avenue resident picking up his newspaper about 7:30 a.m. discovered a badly beaten man lying semiconscious near his yard.

The victim, Joseph Alexander Tasker, 40, died at Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore at 4:40 a.m. Sunday, becoming the fourth homicide victim in the state capital this year.

His death follows the killing Sept. 19 of Straughan Lee Griffin, 51, who was shot in the head and then run over during a carjacking in front of his Cumberland Court home, less than two blocks from the State House. Police have no suspects in either case.

"All of my neighbors have been talking about how scary this is," said Stewart Avenue resident Jan Pitcairn, 37.

Added her husband, Dwight Pitcairn, also 37: "You just don't think of murder here. You don't see murder except on television and in the newspaper."

Police said Tasker, of no fixed address, suffered extensive injuries to the head. Autopsy results today could reveal more details of the crime, including whether a weapon was used.

Officer Hal Dalton, an Annapolis police spokesman, said police are investigating whether Tasker's death is connected with prostitution. Tasker - who Dalton said was found naked from the waist down with his pants lying nearby - pleaded guilty to a charge of prostitution in August.

"That has to be a vein of inquiry, for sure," said Dalton, who noted that an area of West Street a few blocks away is known as a hangout for prostitutes.

Tasker's criminal record stretches back more than 15 years and includes convictions for third- and second-degree burglary in 1997 and 1998, respectively.

Toni Graff, director of the Light House homeless shelter on West Street, said Tasker told shelter employees when he stayed there for one night in June that he had been homeless for five years. Police said Tasker has relatives in the Annapolis area, but they could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Several Murray Hill residents speculated yesterday that the crime might have occurred elsewhere and Tasker's body left in their neighborhood, since no residents reported hearing a confrontation. But Dalton said Tasker told police before he died that the beating happened where he was found, on a grassy path between Stewart and Steele avenues.

"No one is exempt anymore - no area exempt," said Robert Flynn, 69, of Stewart Avenue.

Several Annapolis residents said yesterday that the two recent killings have awakened wealthier residents to the violent crime that has been simmering in less-prosperous areas of the city for years.

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