An 80-year-old resident of a seniors' high-rise in Bolton Hill was charged with shooting and killing an 86-year-old desk clerk yesterday morning, Baltimore police said, after the clerk apparently refused to allow the suspect's granddaughter to board an elevator without a visitor's pass.
"Shocking is not the word," said the Rev. Henry Sanders, an 81-year-old resident of Memorial Apartments on McMechen Street. "The word is astounding."
Both the victim and the suspect lived on the 12th floor. Police identified the clerk as Thomas Batty and the suspect as Clyde Lewis. Batty, shot once in the head with a pistol, was pronounced dead behind the front desk on the first floor. Blood still stained the wall yesterday afternoon.
Police said officers arrived shortly before 8 a.m. to find Lewis sitting in the apartment building's courtyard. He was charged with first-degree murder and could receive a bail review today.
Residents of the building said yesterday's violence was the culmination of a long-running dispute that pitted a clerk adamant about rules against a man who shared home-grown vegetables with neighbors.
Veteran city police commanders said they could not recall a killing with a suspect of Lewis' age, an unusual crime in a city that typically records more than 250 slayings a year with motives that vary from drug disputes to simply being disrespected. In 1998, a 77-year-old man was charged with gunning down a teenager who had defaced his car.
Col. Fred H. Bealefeld III, the Police Department's chief of detectives, said the suspect in yesterday's shooting is the oldest he can remember in his 25-year career.
"It's certainly possible, but nothing jumps out at me," said Bealefeld. He declined to comment on details of the case.
Officer Troy Harris, a city police spokesman, said Batty and Lewis had argued Sunday and that the dispute continued when the two encountered each other yesterday morning. One woman who said she heard the shooting said the two men had long argued.
"They were always after each other," said Olivia Riggins, 79, who has lived in the building for seven years.
Riggins said she was heading out to check the mail before attending a memorial service and was in the lobby as the two argued. As she walked by the front desk, she said, she saw Lewis waving a gun and Batty standing in front of him. She said she was at the front door when she heard two gunshots.
A staff member hustled her out the door.
Sanders, the minister, said he knew both men and that the recent argument stemmed from a confrontation over the weekend. He said Batty, who worked the midnight-to-8-a.m. shift at the front desk, refused to let one of Lewis' granddaughters enter the elevator until she had a visitor's pass.
"Mr. Lewis came down here and he was furious, is what Mr. Batty told me," Sanders said. "Batty said he threatened him, but neither one of us took him seriously."
Police said the shooting occurred at least a day after the initial argument.
Residents said Batty had a reputation for zealously manning the front desk in his four years on the job. But Sanders also said that Batty loved his job.
"As far as I'm concerned, Mr. Batty did his duties," he said.
Sanders said Lewis was a good neighbor who grew tomatoes and cabbage behind the apartment building and shared them with other residents.
"He always had a beautiful garden," he said.
Leo W. Burroughs Jr., co-head of the apartments' tenants group, said the two let their personal differences get out of control. Of Batty, he said, "Some people saw his personality as abrasive."
"But what justification do you have for going to get a gun?" Burroughs said. "Both of them were great guys, as far as I'm concerned. It's really turned us upside down."
Sun reporters Gus G. Sentementes, Nicole Fuller and Stephen Kiehl contributed to this article.