Wife, mother, teacher, victim

With killer facing execution, friends and kin lament lack of attention to the life lost


Jane Frances Tyson counseled rookie schoolteachers. She sent strawberry pie to her husband's office. She liked to dance, and she loved to go shopping for her grandchildren.

She took two of them, a 6-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl, to the Westview Mall on a June evening in 1991 to look for shoes. She bought a pair, and everyone went back to the car - and that's where the 49-year-old woman was shot dead, in front of the children.

Next week's scheduled execution of Wesley Eugene Baker, the man convicted of first-degree murder in Tyson's death, has renewed the debate about the morality and the legality of Maryland's system for capital punishment. Those who knew Jane Tyson say her life and death should not be left out of the discussion.

"All the talk is about the man who did it," said Betty Ireland, Tyson's neighbor and friend. "But he didn't give her any appeal. He snuffed her out without a second thought."

Tyson's brother, Martin E. Andree, shared the sentiment. "My question is, who speaks for Jane?" he asked. "Who speaks for a woman who left three children? A woman with a husband and grandchildren she loved? A teacher, a woman who was taking care of our parents?"

Tyson's husband, John N. Tyson, and one of her daughters declined to be interviewed for this article, and two other daughters did not return calls. But her brother, her next-door neighbor and the family priest, along with news accounts from when she was killed, provide a look at a woman who was highly regarded in the schoolhouse, her church and her neighborhood.

For instance, Tyson routinely visited neighbors if she knew they were sick, said Ireland, the neighbor: "She went out of her way to be kind to people, not only her husband, her kids and her grandchildren, but everyone."

Born Jane Andree, she grew up in the Woodlawn area. Her only sibling, Martin Andree, is four years older. "Jane was very reliable, even as child," he said.

She was a teacher's aide at Riverview Elementary School in southwest Baltimore County for 10 years. She worked with second-graders and helped teach arts and crafts.

Her husband was the principal at Johnnycake Elementary School. The couple lived in the Catonsville neighborhood of Westview Park and were active at what was then St. Lawrence Church in Woodlawn, where Jane Tyson was taking a class to formally become Catholic.

"She was very much in love with her husband, and he was very much in love with her," said the Rev. Lou Martin, the priest at the parish where the couple worshiped. "It was obvious."

He described John Tyson as the kind of husband who, if told by his wife that she wanted a steak, would stand out in the rain cooking it over the grill. And Jane Tyson was the kind of person who would deliver soup to a sick neighbor or send in a pie to her husband's office, friends and relatives said.

The couple often traveled, sometimes with Elder Hostel programs, which combine travel with education. They liked to go bowling, Andree said. And Ireland said they often worked side by side in a garden in their backyard or in the flower beds around the trees in front of their house.

Jane Tyson was also busy caring daily for her elderly parents and keeping up with her five grandchildren, who often came to play at the Tysons' house.

The Sunday before her death, she had stopped to tell her parish priest how excited she was about joining the church. "She was almost like a little kid about it," said Martin, who is now at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Northeast Baltimore.

The Tysons were preparing for a family vacation down South - one of the Carolinas, as the priest recalls - when she went shopping that Thursday evening in June 1991.

Ireland remembers that she and Tyson were leaving their houses at the same time - Ireland to get milk from the grocery store and Tyson to buy tennis shoes for her grandchildren.

Tyson was about to leave the mall parking lot when a man approached the driver's side of her car. Witnesses said they heard a gunshot and saw the man run across the parking lot and jump into a Chevrolet Blazer.

"I saw the woman lying on the ground; her head was all bloody. The truck took off like a bat out of hell. Then I saw the little girl, about 4, run around the car yelling, `Mommy, Mommy,' or `Mom-Mom,' and I took off after them," one bystander who drove after the robbers said later.

Another bystander ran to Tyson's car and shepherded the grandchildren to security officers in the mall.

Police trapped Baker in the Blazer. The shoes that Tyson had just purchased were lying on the front seat of her car, police said. The other suspect was caught, with Tyson's purse - which contained, police said, $10.

Martin, the priest, said he was called by Tyson's oldest daughter to comfort a grieving family, but he didn't immediately recognize the woman's married name. When John Tyson answered the door, Martin said, "What are you doing here?" he recalled.

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