Police review '02 fire death

Arundel case spurs Balto. Co. to look at how woman's spouse died


The arrest of a Millersville woman on a murder accessory charge in the stabbing death of her boyfriend, whose body was found burning last week, has prompted the Baltimore County police to review the circumstances of another fire that killed the woman's third husband in 2002.

Cynthia Jean McKay, 49, of the 200 block of Nathan Way is being held without bond at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center. She is charged in the death of her boyfriend, Anthony Frank Fertitta, 50, of Baltimore, Anne Arundel police said. Her lawyer says she is innocent.

Four years ago, McKay's husband, Clarence E. Downs III, died in a fire at the Lansdowne home that the couple shared. His death was ruled accidental, said Bill Toohey, a spokesman for the Baltimore County Police Department.

Toohey said there is no new physical evidence in the case of the Christmas night 2002 fire, but that McKay's arrest raised enough questions to merit a review by police.

"Because there is another incident involving a death and a fire and this woman, [investigators] are going to review what was done in that case," Toohey said.

The development is the latest twist in the week-old investigation of Fertitta's killing, and it shines a light on McKay's background, which court records and authorities say includes 19 criminal convictions, prison time for embezzling $205,000 from a Baltimore seminary, a faked suicide and links to three fires.

Fertitta's body was found on fire at 3 a.m. Feb. 22 in a quiet Millersville neighborhood, and two days later, McKay was charged with being an accessory after first-degree murder.

Police believe Fertitta was stabbed to death in McKay's home, dumped on the side of the road near her house and set on fire. Police are still looking for the killer.

Investigators have interviewed witnesses, including McKay's 17-year-old son, said Lt. David D. Waltemeyer, a spokesman for the Anne Arundel police. "The case is still extremely active and ongoing," Waltemeyer said.

Police believe bleach was used to clean bloodstains from the carpet in Cynthia McKay's home to conceal the homicide scene, say charging documents filed with Anne Arundel County District Court. Police also found bleach spots on McKay's jacket, documents say.

Justin Fordyce, 18, who knows McKay's 17-year-old son, said he told police he went to the McKay home Wednesday and Thursday and saw "blood everywhere."

McKay declined, through a jail officer, to speak with a reporter yesterday.

Her lawyer, Stephen Freedman, said his client is innocent, and said she was using bleach to clean the house in preparation of moving with Fertitta, whom she'd been dating several months, to a different community. "She was in the process of getting everything tidied up so she wouldn't lose the security deposit," he said.

The Capital in Annapolis reported yesterday that McKay's son had contacted the paper to say that he was being intimidated and followed by county police, whom he said interviewed him for nine hours Thursday and six hours Monday. The newspaper reported that the son said he was not involved in Fertitta's death.

Waltemeyer said the 17-year-old is being treated as a witness, and said witnesses are free to leave or halt an interview if they are not under arrest.

"Our homicide detectives are the most-experienced interviewers in the department and have extensive contact with the state's attorney's office, and their interviews consistently hold up in court," he said.

Meanwhile, the recent charges have caused authorities to re-examine the background of McKay, the mother of six.

Anne Arundel police confirmed that they've spoken with Baltimore County investigators familiar with the 2002 fire at a house in the 3700 block of Pansy Ave.

McKay escaped from the building, and investigators blamed the fire on careless smoking. "At the time, it was probably investigated as a suspicious fire and then resolved," Toohey said. He said investigators had determined the fire was started by "a cigarette and a sofa."

Months after the Baltimore County fire, McKay was charged with embezzling $205,000 from St. Mary's Seminary and University in Roland Park, where she had worked as an office manager, according to a Sun article then.

In April 2003, police found her car in an Ocean City parking lot with the keys in the ignition and a suicide note that said she would rather die than go to jail, the article said.

McKay resurfaced three months later at a battered women's shelter in Virginia. She had dyed her hair red and undergone liposuction. After being arrested, she pleaded guilty to the embezzlement charge and was sentenced to eight years in prison. She was released in July, according to testimony at her bail hearing.

In the mid-1980s, McKay pleaded guilty to the theft of funds from an Annapolis window manufacturing company she worked for, said Hal Dalton, an Annapolis police spokesman who investigated the case as a detective.

She opened a dummy checking account in the business' name where she would deposit some payments from customers, Dalton said. After Dalton began his investigation, he said, there was a fire at the company.

"Mostly ... the fire was where the records were kept," Dalton said.

Dalton said accelerant was used in the fire, and witnesses said a woman was seen in the building. McKay was never charged, court records show.


Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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