After a man's tragic death, his family seeks answers

Police say Nick Marsalek's fatal fall from a bridge was not murder. His parents are convinced it was.

February 28, 2005|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore police detectives have told Jim and Mary Anne Marsalek that their son Nick's death was no murder. An unfortunate accident, perhaps. A tragic suicide, maybe.

It's unclear how the 26-year-old jazz guitarist fell 50 feet from a bridge over Wyman Park in Hampden on Nov. 17.

Police have told the Marsaleks that Nick's wallet, car keys and leather jacket were still on him when a jogger found his body at 4:35 a.m. An autopsy report confirmed that his death was caused by a fall, but it also revealed that he was legally drunk, leading police to speculate that he might have slipped.

The Marsaleks, who live in Heathbrook near Hampden, believe otherwise. They say their son had no reason to be on the span at Remington Avenue and 33rd Street and that he was lured there by people who wanted to rob him.

"This was a murder, and the cops have just shuffled it along," Jim Marsalek said.

The couple have no evidence to back their claim, but they insist they are on the right path. A Baltimore psychic named Sandi Athey has told them that she has caught glimpses of their son's final moments, including a shove that forced the 1996 Loyola Blakefield prep school graduate off the bridge.

"Sandi is really trying to get us physical evidence of some sort so that we can bring something solid to the police," said Mary Anne Marsalek. "We want to bring the perpetrators to justice."

Police spokesman Matt Jablow said detectives did a "tremendous amount of work" on the case but that there is no evidence Nick was murdered. "We've had numerous discussions with the family and done everything we could to help," he said. "It's terribly sad."

The Marsaleks, who had their last meeting with detectives Jan. 21, say police rushed to conclusions.

"Police, from the start, have taken the tack that Nick fell or committed suicide," said Jim Marsalek, 57, an American literature and composition teacher at the Jemicy School in Baltimore County. "But this was not a suicide. This was not an accident."

"It just doesn't add up," said Mary Anne Marsalek, 56, a teacher at Roland Park Country School.

Although he had been drinking, friends who were with Nick say he was coherent and steady on his feet. So they don't believe he fell off the bridge.

They don't believe he jumped, either. They say the 2000 summa cum laude graduate of Loyola University in New Orleans was saving money to move to San Francisco or Chicago. He was in love with his girlfriend and excited about a jazz trio he had started.

"A lot of life is preparing for the moment when you can seize life," said Sean Krus, 26, a good friend of Nick's since boyhood. "Nick felt like he was working toward that moment."

Nick, a waiter at Petit Louis Bistro in Roland Park, worked a double shift the day before he died. Friends say he was carrying as much as $100 when he left the restaurant about 11 p.m. Nov. 16. Police found $7 in his wallet and never located his checkbook.

"This was a robbery gone bad," said Jim Marsalek, who has spent long afternoons meditating on his son's death.

In her search for answers, Athey has visited Nick's room in his parents' house - a retreat where he read Eastern European philosophers and composed edgy jazz riffs - and has spoken with friends who were with him the night he died. She also talked to people who worked with him, drank beers with him at a local bar and watched him drive off into the night.

Athey has used her talk show on WCBM-AM to get the word out about Nick's death. She has asked listeners, some of whom are budding psychics, to do their own sleuthing.

"My first hit is usually it," she said recently. "And from the first time I walked into the Marsaleks' house, I got the feeling that he was distracted, and it was a gang. Everyone gets that he was pushed."

Athey says someone lured Nick to the bridge, where at least two other people were waiting. When he realized he'd been duped, it was too late.

"He was completely and totally taken by surprise," she said.

Police found Nick's black 2002 Toyota Corolla legally parked at the southeast corner of Keswick Avenue and 33rd Street, about a block from the bridge.

The Marsaleks say that in conversations with police they learned that surveillance video from a 7-Eleven convenience store at the same intersection showed no sign of Nick. They say interviews of their son's friends and people who live near the bridge presented more dead ends.

Friends who were with Nick the night he died say he arrived at One World CafM-i on West University Parkway at midnight and stayed until the bar closed at 2 a.m. They say he had two beers and two shots but was coherent when he agreed to help a colleague get a friend home.

"It was supposed to be a quick transaction," said Jennifer Poulin, 24, a Petit Louis co-worker who asked Nick to follow her in his car while she drove an intoxicated friend home in the friend's car. Nick was to drive Poulin back to her car, which was parked near the bar.

Poulin says Nick drove by her friend's house in the 3100 block of Keswick Ave. twice but never made it to the front door.

Nick, who didn't know the woman's address, may have wandered, but what drew him to the bridge is a mystery that has consumed his parents and fraternal twin, David.

"My feeling is that something happened to him," said David Marsalek, a professional drummer who lives in Chicago. "There was some external force. Someone threw him down there."

"I think Nick wants justice," said Jim Marsalek. "The cosmos wants justice, and we want justice. ... I envision the moment that I look at these guys."

A reward is being offered to anyone with information that leads to an arrest and indictment in Nick Marsalek's death. Call Metro Crime Stoppers at 410-276-8888.

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