Man, 21, gets 5 years for his role in killing

He admits helping mother remove boyfriend's body

October 30, 2007|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

Since Anthony Fertitta's burning body was found on a sidewalk in Millersville, investigators have known this much: With the floor to girlfriend Cynthia McKay's home covered in bleach and stained with blood, someone had tried to cover up the crime.

McKay's younger son, Matthew Joseph Haarhoff, quickly implicated his older brother. He recanted a few days later, according to court records, saying he had lied at their mother's urging. When both young men were later charged, McKay's lawyer said she was "a mess emotionally."

By the end of last year, all three had been indicted in the killing.

Yesterday, the focus turned back to McKay as her older son described finding her standing over Fertitta's bloodied body and agreeing to help her dispose of it.

Christopher James Haarhoff, 21, agreed to serve five years in prison for being an accessory to the February 2006 crime, helping to drag Fertitta's body out through a back door and onto the roadside, where it was doused with gasoline and set afire. His attorney, John M. McKenna, said afterward that Christopher Haarhoff "pled to what he did, nothing more, nothing less."

Prosecutors declined to comment further, noting the other cases. Neither McKay nor Matthew Haarhoff has gone to trial, and McKay's public defender could not be reached for comment.

Yesterday's plea hearing shed new light on how authorities believe Fertitta, 50, of Baltimore, was killed.

Unknown to Fertitta, a UPS driver and warehouse worker who was prudent with his money, he was dating a convicted con artist who once had faked her own death and who just months before they met had been released from prison after embezzling $205,000 from a Baltimore seminary. It was one of more than a dozen fraud and theft convictions.

Prosecutors said McKay opened credit cards in Fertitta's name and intercepted the bills, and bought a car by forging one of his checks.

In December 2005, when Fertitta said he won $20,000 playing Keno, McKay called Christopher Haarhoff, prosecutors said, and hatched a robbery plot: He and a friend would don ski masks and rob Fertitta on his way to work after being given a signal from McKay and using a gun she had given them.

That plan fell apart, but McKay is accused of continuing to steal from Fertitta. Two months later, while Haarhoff was out with friends playing pool, his mother called crying and told him to come to her house, prosecutors said.

When Haarhoff walked in, prosecutors said, McKay was sitting on the stairs, covered in blood. Fertitta had been stabbed in the lungs, heart and neck, and had cuts on his hands.

According to prosecutors, McKay told her son, "I [messed] up. I had to do it. He found out about the credit cards."

Prosecutors made no mention during the recounting yesterday of the actions of Matthew Haarhoff, who was 17 when he became the first member of his family charged with first-degree murder.

At the time of his arrest, police said it was Matthew Haarhoff who had been called to his mother's home, in the midst of an argument between her and Fertitta. An unidentified witness told police that Matthew Haarhoff confessed to shooting and stabbing Fertitta, then carrying away his body while his mother cleaned up. A police spokesman said detectives were confident that he was the killer.

Charging documents show that Matthew Haarhoff's attorney has received letters from McKay absolving her son of any involvement with crime. The attorney, David P. Putzi, said yesterday that Matthew, now 19, continues to assert his innocence, but there have been no discussions of a plea deal.

"Nothing about this case is as it seems," Putzi said. "There's more volumes of evidence here than anything I've ever been a part of."

Baltimore County fire officials and police said yesterday that they are still investigating a Christmas 2002 fire that caused the death of McKay's third husband, Clarence E. Downs III. McKay escaped the fire, which burned down the couple's Lansdowne home and was ruled accidental by county authorities.

According to prosecutors, McKay considered torching her home after Fertitta's death. "I could burn the house down, but that would be too much of a coincidence - two house fires, two bodies," she allegedly told her older son, according to prosecutors.

Rose Acton, Fertitta's sister, said in a phone interview yesterday that she was angry that Christopher Haarhoff would only serve five years for his role in the killing. Haarhoff also acted as matchmaker for his mother and Fertitta, his neighbor.

Acton recalled her brother as a hard-working man who never married and was looking for companionship. She said he played the lottery often, always playing the numbers 3-0-3.

"He was lucky at a lot of stuff like that," she said. "But he always met girls who were after him for his money. He just wanted somebody to love him."

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