Survivor describes struggle for her life

Intruder told woman: `I'm here to kill you and your husband'

December 21, 2005|By SUMATHI REDDY, GUS G. SENTEMENTES AND LYNN ANDERSON | SUMATHI REDDY, GUS G. SENTEMENTES AND LYNN ANDERSON,SUN REPORTERS

Amelia Gertrude Tabron remembers vividly the words spoken by the man who showed up at her Northwest Baltimore doorstep Sept. 10.

"I'm here to kill you and your husband," Tabron, 76, recalled yesterday, sitting in the dining room of the Fernhill Avenue house she has called home for more than three decades.

"He opened the door and those were the first words out of his mouth," she said slowly, her speech affected by two recent strokes.

"I'll never forget that."

They survived -- Amelia Tabron and her husband, Thomas, 80, who suffers from dementia -- enduring a brief struggle in which a butcher knife sliced her left hand.

At least five others -- elderly women and a man, vulnerable, much like them -- did not survive attacks.

Raymont Hopewell, 34, has been charged with killing five people ages 60 to 88, some of whom he knew from the various neighborhoods in which he lived. He has a bail hearing scheduled for today.

Two of the slayings occurred in 1999 and 2002, but other crimes were more recent -- three killings and two home invasions between May and September -- a chilling trail of beatings and strangulations in the city's west and northwest.

"We are very, very grateful that there weren't more victims out there," said Maj. Richard Fahlteich, commander of the homicide unit. But, Fahlteich added, investigators will continue to examine evidence from other cases for possible links.

Yesterday, police added another crime to the list. They charged Hopewell with the Sept. 2 rape of a 63-year-old woman who was attacked at knifepoint in the basement of her West Baltimore home, her hands later tied behind her back with green ribbon and measuring tape.

Before the attack, court documents say, the man stood in the woman's kitchen and drank three Diet Cokes and a bottle of apple juice. He left with the woman's television set.

Tabron, a devout Baptist, said: "I was one of the blessed ones that made it. It was the grace of God. He was protecting us."

Hopewell didn't know the Tabrons. At least three of the people he is charged with attacking he had apparently known or seen years before. Those people ended up dead.

Lydia Wingfield, a 78-year-old woman who police believe was killed by Hopewell on Aug. 30, has a son who recalls growing up with Hopewell in a West Baltimore neighborhood, riding bikes and playing hide-and-seek together. The suspect told Wingfield he knew her son when he confronted her in the house, court documents say.

Neighbors, friends

Sarah Shannon, 88, lived across the hall from Hopewell's mother in a Northwest Baltimore apartment building, and family members say the man visited his mother often. And relatives of 60-year-old Constance Wills, who police say was killed in 1999, said Hopewell attended their family gatherings and played with the victim's grandson.

"It was sad to know that it was someone we knew," Wills' granddaughter, Lolita Horton, said yesterday. "What caused him to do that? I want know why."

The killings began -- as far as police know -- in February 1999. Wills and her relatives had known Hopewell for years. Her family even has a photo of Hopewell, taken during a birthday party.

When Wills was killed -- she was found lying on a bed of a second-floor bedroom, dead from asphyxiation -- relatives said they suspected that the killer was someone who knew her. Police charging documents say that DNA evidence led detectives to their suspect.

Hopewell had lived with one of Wills' daughters for a period of several months. But she kicked him out him out when he ran up a phone bill, according to Cecelia Smith, another of Wills' daughters.

It has been about a decade since the two families last met.

"We called him our cousin," Smith said yesterday, recalling the tight bond she once had with her mother's killer. "He was at my mother's alleged house for birthdays and holidays. It's hard because you wouldn't think that someone you trust with your family would hurt you like that."

Three years after Wills was killed, on Nov. 30, 2002, police found Sarah Shannon strangled in a bedroom at a Northwest Baltimore apartment building. Hopewell's mother -- Carlita Bayton -- lived across the hall from Shannon at the time, and residents at the building said they remember seeing Hopewell hanging around.

A careful woman

Hopewell never lived there, though he listed the address as a residence at one point. Shannon, who stood 6 feet tall, was careful about her own security, residents of the apartment building said yesterday. Police told residents there was no sign of forced entry.

"She wouldn't have let anyone into her apartment," said Bertha Gray, 82, a close friend of Shannon's who lived on the same floor. "We couldn't understand how someone got in there."

For three more years, Hopewell continued to float around Baltimore. He was convicted on a drug-dealing charge and began serving an 18-month sentence in July last year. A month later, he walked away from a halfway house in Southwest Baltimore, where he had been placed to serve his time.

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