How one cold case got hot

Knight: A chance phone call, a Florida robbery and an unusual name led to a suspect in a 1984 Dundalk killing.

April 18, 2004|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

SILVER SPRINGS, Fla. -- Seven years after leaving Baltimore, Joann Knight seemed to be, at 45, trying to straighten out her life. She had moved to rural central Florida, relatives say, to get away from drugs and old acquaintances. And for the first time in years, she went months without any run-ins with the law.

Then early one morning last month, a pair of Marion County sheriff's detectives showed up at her door. They had told her they had found some items she reported stolen years ago.

"I'll be right back," she told her father-in-law, Jim Knight, before leaving with police.

He dressed so that he could go pick her up from the police station, but as he was putting on his shoes, his phone rang.

"The detectives called and said not to bother coming," he says. "They said she'd be a while."

The stolen property had been a ruse. Baltimore County police officers met her at the station, and Joann Knight learned she had been charged with murder in a case from nearly 20 years ago and almost 900 miles away.

In the years between the fatal shooting of John Andrykis, 69, in front of his Dundalk home and Joann Knight's arrest in Florida, she had renewed her relationship with her daughter while struggling with drugs and financial troubles. But the Highlandtown native had never appeared to be on the run, and would have had no reason to be.

The arrest warrant taken out last month was the first time in nearly two decades that her name had surfaced in connection with Andrykis' death. Now, Knight and her ex-boyfriend, David Marsh, are jailed on first-degree murder charges in the killing.

The chain of events that led investigators to Knight's Florida doorstep was triggered not by a DNA match, but by old-fashioned police work. It involved a chance phone call, a seemingly unrelated convenience store robbery and an unusual name: Jennifer Jenifer.

Mysterious death

Just before 8 p.m. on Oct. 7, 1984, Baltimore County police officers arrived at Andrykis' home on Flood Lane in Dundalk to check on a report of suspicious activity.

Officers found the body of the retired Teamsters organizer near a car parked in front of his ransacked two-story house. He had been shot.

Detectives interviewed Joann Knight -- at the time, 26-year-old Joann Culotta -- and Marsh, court records show.

Baltimore County police say information they developed during the 1984 homicide investigation led them to believe that Andrykis sold cocaine from his home. Andrykis was described in court documents as a "sugar daddy" to Knight.

But police say Andrykis was never arrested on drug charges, and Fran Pawlowski, one of his three children, says he did not sell drugs. Pawlowski, 58, who lives in Lincoln, Del., said people might have taken advantage of him because he was a kind man.

When detectives talked to Knight and Marsh in 1984, both "emphatically denied being involved in the homicide," court documents state.

The investigation fizzled.

For more than a decade after the shooting, Joann Knight stayed in the Baltimore area.

"She's never tried to hide from anyone," says Knight's daughter, Jennifer Jenifer, who has lived with or near her mother most of her adult life.

As Jenifer was growing up, she says, her grandparents in Dundalk looked after her while Knight "lived her own life." Court records show it was a life that included several arrests on drug charges.

But the mother and daughter reunited as Jenifer entered her teens, Jenifer says, and the two lived together briefly in a small Pennsylvania town near York.

Her mother married James Knight in Baltimore in 1996, and the two of them loaded a U-Haul and set off for Punta Gorda, Fla., Jenifer says.

They wanted a change of pace, she says, and they wanted to be closer to James' father, Jim Knight. By that July, Joann Knight had persuaded her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend to move to Florida.

"You're my only daughter. I miss you," Jenifer remembers her mother saying.

They all lived in Punta Gorda until 2002, when the family relocated from the beach town to Ocala, about an hour west of Daytona Beach. The town is known for thoroughbred horses, but residents say it has had crack-cocaine troubles for years.

Florida jail records show Knight was detained at the Marion County jail four times between 2002 and this year. After one arrest, in March of last year, she was ordered to participate in a drug treatment program. She was arrested again in July for failing to do so, records show.

For a year and a half, the Knights lived in a rundown rental home in Ocala, across from a gas station and near the Palms Motel, where police say they often respond to calls for drug activity.

The family had electricity for only a few months, neighbor Marvin Stephens says.

"Basically, she was in and out of jail the whole time she lived here," he recalls.

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