Missing city man's house set on fire

He was seen walking home 3 hours before arson

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 confounded Baltimore police and arson investigators yesterday, even as his friends and family launched their own search.

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 brick house in the 200 block of E. West St.

Firefighters didn't find the unemployed telecommunications worker in the tiny home and his 1990 Honda coupe -- champagne with burgundy interior and narrow red racing stripes -- was missing. Investigators said the blaze was deliberately set.

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 Bank records show someone may have withdrawn as much as $800 in the early morning hours.

Police said they were concentrating on two possibilities: either 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. They marshaled their Roland Park neighbors and friends to search for his car and pass out his picture.

What they do know is that he 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, as they scoured the area for the Honda with Maryland tags 202-BJZ, 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 Bergers 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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