Missing city man's house set on fire

Federal Hill resident's car found by Memphis police

April 03, 2003|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson and Del Quentin Wilber | Kimberly A.C. Wilson and Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

The disappearance of a Federal Hill man puzzled police and arson investigators yesterday in Baltimore and Memphis, Tenn., even as his friends and family searched for their own clues.

James Clark Standiford, 33, was seen about 12:15 a.m. Tuesday, as he walked one block home from Porter's Pub & Grille. Three hours later, a fire severely damaged his house in the 200 block of E. West St.

Firefighters didn't find the unemployed telecommunications worker in the tiny burned-out home. Investigators said the blaze was deliberately set.

Standiford's car also was missing -- until yesterday afternoon when the tan 1990 Honda was found on a street in downtown Memphis by police investigating a report of a suspicious car, Baltimore police said. The interior of the car showed no obvious sign of violence and no keys were found in the vehicle, police said. The car was impounded by Memphis police.

On Tuesday, a video camera from an automated teller machine near Standiford's home showed a grainy picture of the tall, curly-haired man withdrawing $200 about 12:30 a.m. Bank records show someone may have withdrawn as much as $800 in the early morning hours.

Police said they were concentrating on two possibilities: Standiford doesn't want to be found or he was abducted.

"It's essentially a dual investigation," said Edwin Day, chief of the department's detective division, adding that arson and homicide detectives are working on the case.

Standiford's parents, Will and Betty, said they couldn't imagine why their loyal, upbeat son would disappear. Two of his siblings received early morning hang-up calls around the time of the fire.

Standiford and his older brother John cheered on the Orioles at the season opener at Camden Yards. Afterwards, the brothers parted ways, with Jim heading off on foot to visit a friend, and then to grab supper at Porter's.

He stayed until closing, and was last seen headed west to Battery Street, where he usually dog-legged south one block to East West Street.

Mark Westervelt, a close family friend, knocked on doors along the way Tuesday night, asking residents to call police with any information.

Jim Standiford's girlfriend, Kristen Chencus, joined the search, with two friends from Virginia, Dan Poarch and Trent Thurston.

Yesterday afternoon, a mother pushing a stroller gaped at the blackened shell of Standiford's rental house. Piles of debris blocked the sidewalks, including a crushed box of Berger's cookies and the first, singed page from Chinua Achebe's classic, Things Fall Apart.

Thurston said: "The police think that he hit the road. That doesn't sound like him. Something bad happened to Jimbo, we just don't know what."

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