Decades later, arrest eases agony over brother's death

Man claims a neighbor killed his sibling, 3, as he looked on in 1963

February 15, 2004|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

For 40 years, Bruce January says, he has been replaying the gruesome moment in 1963 when he watched his younger brother die.

He says the shame of lying to police about what he saw that day as a 7-year-old haunted him emotionally during a life that saw the breakup of one marriage, the near-breakup of another and several suicide attempts.

Worse yet, he said, he has known for years that the man who killed his brother was a convicted sex offender who still lived in his South Baltimore neighborhood.

That changed Friday, when detectives with the Baltimore Police Department's cold-case squad arrested Robert Lee Fox Sr., 63, at the Middle Branch Park boat marina where he worked.

Fox was charged with first-degree and second-degree murder, as well as two counts of child abuse, in the 1963 killing of 3-year-old Howard January. He was being held without bail at the Baltimore City Detention Center.

Fox, who was then married to the baby sitter in whose house the boy died, was not charged in connection with the boy's death at the time. He has been convicted of sex offenses since then, and he is listed on the state's sex offender registry.

According to January, the afternoon of Dec. 7, 1963, started like any other when he and his two brothers went to the Durst Street home of a friend, Barbara Fox, who baby-sat for them regularly. While Barbara Fox went out to run an errand, the boys stayed home with a man they called Uncle Bob.

Police said the assault occurred when the man told Howard to put on his shoes and come downstairs. When the boy said he couldn't find them, the man struck the child repeatedly, dangling him by his ankles and throwing him against the wall until he became unconscious, police said.

The man told January to try to wake Howard, and when the boy didn't respond, the man took him to what is now Harbor Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said.

Bruce was the only one of the January children who witnessed the killing because the third boy, Raymond, was upstairs, where the boys had been jumping on the bed.

At that point, police said, the man struck Bruce on the head and told him to tell police that Howard had fallen down the stairs. The child did as he was told, and the autopsy report ruled the death an accident.

In the ensuing years, January said, the memories of that day and guilt over lying to the police have tortured him. "It affected me in a way where I was punishing myself mentally, and then it became a habit, and I started punishing the people that I love," January said. "It's affected just about every part of my life. I thought about it pretty constantly."

He said that over the years, he told family members, therapists and the police about what had happened, but nothing came of it.

In December, as the 40th anniversary of Howard's death approached, January said he had to try again. He phoned WMAR-TV investigative producer Debra Schindler Kohlhepp, who had once worked for the show America's Most Wanted.

A mother with four young children, Kohlhepp said she sympathized with January's ordeal. She began her own investigation and eventually turned her findings over to the cold-case squad. That led police to the arrest.

Police spokeswoman Nicole Monroe said detectives reinterviewed the witnesses and asked David Fowler, the state's chief medical examiner, to review the initial autopsy report, which concluded that the boy died from blunt-force trauma to the head. Fowler then ruled the death a homicide.

"There's no statute of limit on murders," Monroe said. "They bring closure to incidents, no matter how long ago they occurred."

In his own way, January has tried to reconcile himself with what happened. Six years ago, he said, he saw Fox walking on Light Street, blocks from the home where the killing occurred.

When Fox didn't recognize him, January said, he introduced himself and accused him of killing Howard. He said that when Fox offered his hand, he slapped it away.

With this weekend's arrest, though, January and his family said they hope he can move on with his life.

"Your mind kind of stops growing when these types of things happen to you early in life," January said. "That's not something that will change overnight, but I think this will go a long ways toward helping me."

Sun staff writer Jennifer McMenamin contributed to this article.

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