Finding leads in cold cases

New job: Nick De Carlo, the first cold-case investigator in Howard County, will look for fresh leads in old crimes

August 21, 2005|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,SUN STAFF

She was nameless. A dog likely had dragged her skeleton a few feet from its original resting place in an isolated wooded area next to an office park on Route 108 in Columbia.

All that remained were a few strands of long hair, a medium-sized sweater and women's jewelry.

The year was 1975. Four months after the discovery, using forensics techniques considered radical for the day, Howard County police found her a name and a history. But they have yet to identify who raped and killed her.

This month, the 30-year-old slaying of Roseanne M. Sturtz of Baltimore, 22 other unsolved homicides and two missing-person cases will get a fresh look from Nick De Carlo, Howard County's first cold-case investigator and a retired Montgomery County police officer.

He will sift through the evidence once again and follow up on previously unfruitful leads.

"Interpersonal relationships - really, all associations - change over time," said De Carlo, 55, who completed cold-case training last week at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in Annapolis. "Marriages break up, boyfriends and girlfriends split. A person once unwilling to come forward may be more willing when interviewed at a later date."

The cases range from homicide victims involved in the drug trade to Teneisha Whitfield, a 14-year-old runaway from Prince George's County, who was shot in the head and found burned in a car in North Laurel.

In some of the cases, like that of Walter Scott Cook, 20, police remain convinced they know who did it. They charged three teenagers with Cook's murder in 2000, only to see those charges dropped for lack of evidence.

In other cases, people just disappeared. Christine Ann Jarrett, 34, walked out of her Elkridge home with more than $4,000 on Jan. 3, 1991, after kissing her two young sons goodnight and hasn't been heard from since.

Jarrett's is one of two missing-person cases that have been added to De Carlo's list. The courts declared her dead seven years after her disappearance, and foul play is suspected even though her body has not been found.

De Carlo and his boss, Capt. Tara Nelson, have not set priorities among these cases. Once De Carlo identifies the "strongest" one, that's where he'll start. He also won't have as much help as cold-case investigators in Baltimore, Washington and Montgomery County, where entire units are dedicated to solving inactive cases.

"Although every homicide is one too many, we don't have the large number of unsolved cases that other jurisdictions have," Howard police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said.

In choosing which cases to examine, the department decided to look back 30 years. Llewellyn said few records remain for cases before 1975, and that in many cases, suspects, witnesses and relatives may no longer be alive.

Sturtz's homicide is the coldest of them all. But more is known about her than police ever expected.

After spending months without an identity, her skeleton was sent to J. Lawrence Angel, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Much as paleontologists reconstruct dinosaurs from preserved bones, Angel and Washington police artist Donald Cherry created a sketch of the victim's face from her skull in 1976.

Angel was able to identify the skeleton as that of a short, white female, between the ages of 17 and 22. She had broad shoulders and hips. Her head and face were long, the nose high-bridged. Her eyes sloped at the corners. Her skull's shape helped Angel place the ears, mouth corners and tip of the nose.

It took Cherry three weeks to sketch the victim, and the result was published in a March 1976 edition of The Sun.

Police received phone calls from three readers, saying that the drawing closely resembled Sturtz, a 20-year-old topless dancer at the Tic Toc Club at Lombard and Eutaw streets who had been missing since August 1975.

Police confirmed the match, linking booking fingerprints from Sturtz's prior arrest for assault to badly decomposed prints from one of the victim's fingers.

"This was the first successful facial reconstruction done in a homicide case," said Al Hafner, a fingerprint examiner for Howard County police. Today, the technique is common, either using computers or Angel's old-fashioned method.

But details about the night Sturtz disappeared were never unearthed. Police even consulted a psychic as a last resort.

"Her lifestyle didn't contribute to the investigation," Detective Sgt. Daniel M. Davis, now police chief in Williston, Fla., told The Sun in May 1979. "She hung around people of questionable background, and many were uncooperative."

Complicating matters, police never found a crime scene. Sturtz could have been killed anywhere and her body later dumped in the woods.

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