County's first killing of 2003

Denny's dishwasher, 30, found dead in apartment

No comment on motive, suspect

Classification of crime changed from `suspicious'


December 31, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

On the 364th day of 2003, Carroll County registered its first homicide of the year - the death of a 30-year-old Westminster man who washed dishes and helped the cooks at Denny's Restaurant and who amused his co-workers by quoting the witticisms of his favorite foul-mouthed wrestlers.

Westminster police said yesterday that they are investigating the case as a homicide, a day after classifying the death of Richard Paul Atkins as "suspicious."

Capt. Randy Barnes of the Westminster police said investigators changed their classification of Atkins' death after following additional leads.

Barnes mentioned "signs of physical injury on the deceased," although he declined to elaborate.

"It's an ongoing investigation, and that kind of information we're not releasing," he said. "We're not describing the injuries to preserve the integrity of the investigation."

Barnes also declined to comment on whether police had identified a suspect or a motive for the killing.

He said no one had been taken into custody yesterday.

In addition, authorities are awaiting autopsy results from the state medical examiner's office.

Atkins was found dead in his apartment in the 100 block of E. Main St. about 12:30 p.m. Monday by a relative who had gone to check on him, police said.

A supervisor at Denny's Restaurant said Atkins had failed to show up for work last weekend - an unprecedented occurrence for an employee who often agreed to fill any shift and stay all night, if necessary, at the 24-hour restaurant, said Jaquetta Anderson, manager of the Denny's at Route 140 and Englar Road.

Barnes said investigators have not pinpointed the time or date of Atkins' death.

No one answered the door yesterday at Atkins' apartment in a three-story, white-brick house with a broad porch cluttered by a bicycle, baby strollers and weightlifting equipment.

Several windows of the house were covered with bed sheets, blankets and towels in lieu of curtains or shades.

The building appeared to be divided into 10 apartment units.

Anderson said she became concerned when a fellow manager at Denny's told her that Atkins had not shown up for work during the weekend.

`Shocked, actually'

"I was really surprised. I was shocked, actually," Anderson said.

"I didn't think of anything happening to him, but I thought it was really weird and really out of character. Richard would come in and cover anybody's shift and would stay overnight if we needed him," she added.

When no one at Denny's had heard from Atkins by 4:30 p.m. Monday, Anderson asked another manager to give him a call.

When Ruth Marion could not reach Atkins on his cell phone, she tried his mother's house - the only other phone number they had for Atkins, Anderson said.

"That's how we found out - from his mom," Anderson said.

However, she said, she did not know that police had classified his death a homicide and was surprised at the turn of events.

"I thought it would be natural causes," she said. "It's pretty nice out here. It seems pretty quiet and like everybody knows everybody."

Pleasant sort

What's more, she said, Atkins was a pleasant person who seemed to get along with everybody.

"He pretty much would do everything you asked him to do," she said. "He will be truly missed by the staff here."

Anderson said that Atkins was a huge fan of World Wrestling Entertainment and often quoted his favorite wrestlers.

She said her staff was amused at Atkins' ability to work the wrestlers' trash talk into his duties at Denny's.

"He would tell some of the cooks that if they didn't leave him alone that he would lay the smackest down on them," Anderson said, chuckling. "That used to be funny. He wasn't serious. It was just his saying."

Atkins had worked at the Westminster restaurant since May as a service assistant, washing dishes, assisting cooks and helping to clear tables.

Five slayings in '02

Carroll County logged five homicides last year, including one in Westminster.

Although authorities are investigating the death of a toddler last month, the county had no confirmed homicides this year until Westminster police classified Atkins' death as one yesterday.

"That's what I thought when I was standing on the sidewalk" outside Atkins' apartment Monday, said Barnes, the police captain. "I was thinking about how close we were to not having any homicides for the year."

Authorities ask anyone with information about Atkins' death to call Westminster police at 410-848-4646 or the TIPS line at 410-857-TIPS (8477).

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