Suspect arrested, 23 years later

Police say cold-case work ends with stakeout of city man accused in roommate's killing


City police said yesterday that they arrested a suspect in connection with a man's killing 23 years ago after staking out a Southeast Baltimore neighborhood not far from where the killing occurred.

Acting on information developed through sources, detectives staked out two houses in the Highlandtown neighborhood on Monday evening. Police said they spotted the man in the backyard of a rowhouse wearing only underwear. They spoke briefly with him at his front door, and then he shut the door and barricaded himself in the house for hours as police surrounded the home, police said.

"We had a brief conversation with him, and he stepped back inside the house and locked himself in," said Detective Vincent Stevenson, a member of the Regional Warrant Apprehension Task Force. "We never had the opportunity to tell him he was wanted. I guess he was getting leery."

Later that night, the man gave himself up, Stevenson said. Police identified him as Dennis James Wallace, 54, of the 3400 block of Leverton Ave. Wallace was charged in the July 31, 1983, killing of William N. Gibson, 57, who was found in an apartment in the 2200 block of E. Pratt St.

The charges include first-degree murder, first- and second-degree assault, and use of a deadly weapon, police said. Wallace was being held at the Central Booking and Intake Center pending a bail review, police said.

Police officials conceded that Gibson's death was an unusual case. His decomposed body was found stuffed in a trash can, placed in a closet that was tied shut with rope, with a mattress leaning against it. Yet authorities said they did not have enough information to determine the circumstances of Gibson's death.

As a result, the case lingered as a pending death investigation for more than two decades in the Police Department's records. The state medical examiner's office considered the manner of death to be "undetermined," police say.

Last year, cold-case detectives reopened the case and tracked down Wallace, who police say was a roommate and lover of Gibson's. After being pressed for details, Wallace confessed that the killing occurred during a night of drinking, police said.

Even so, police had to release Wallace as they continued the investigation and waited for the medical examiner's office to review the case. That review was completed last week, and the medical examiner's office determined that Gibson's death was a homicide caused by blunt-force trauma, police said.

Information provided by the suspect about how Gibson's killing occurred was corroborated by the medical examiner's recent review of the case, police said. With the revised medical finding, police and prosecutors were able to obtain a warrant for Wallace's arrest.

Police said that Wallace worked as a handyman, frequented city soup kitchens and lived at addresses in South and Southeast Baltimore over the years. At the rowhouse on Leverton, a tight street cluttered with trash and homes under renovation, Wallace lived in the basement, below other renters.

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