A fatal romance

Cindy McKay embroils two sons in a deadly affair

Sun special report A trail of deception

April 29, 2008|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

The first Anne Arundel officer on the scene just after 3 a.m. thought what was burning was a mannequin. Then two other cops arrived, and the three of them realized that this was no imitation. A human body was in flames.

They extinguished the fire and huddled over the smoking remains of an adult male.

His arms and legs were pulled into his torso, as if in terror or pain. He lay partially wrapped in a blue blanket on Old Mill Road just south of Baltimore. He wore jeans, socks and a shirt stained with what appeared to be blood. Around his neck were three gold chains, and on his back, officers made out the tattoo of a steer's skull. A hairpiece had separated from his scalp.

On the ground, drag marks stretched toward nearby townhouses, where police fanned out to interview neighbors in the morning darkness.

A half-mile away, just after daybreak, a Millersville homeowner stepped outside and noticed a black trash bag at the end of his driveway. It wasn't his. Within minutes, the bag would have been picked up with the trash, but he had seen news reports about a body being found nearby. He decided that police should have a look in the bag.

When they did, they found a coat with a UPS insignia as well as a pay stub, assorted mail and a wallet with credit cards. All bore the name Anthony Fertitta.

The address led detectives to a home in Baltimore Highlands, 12 miles from the burning body. Parked at the curb was a Pontiac Trans Am registered to Fertitta. The house was unoccupied.

Police started working the neighborhood. Two houses away, a young man opened the door.

Yes, he said, he knew Anthony Fertitta. His mother had been dating the man for months.

Her name was Cindy McKay. And, he volunteered, she was no angel.

A return to prison

That was Feb. 22, 2006. About 2 1/2 years earlier, a Baltimore detective named Richard Gibson had finally tracked Cindy McKay to southeastern Virginia. By then, he had been chasing her for several months and was as familiar as anyone with her criminal record, which included a 20-year string of convictions and incarcerations for thefts and embezzlements, mostly from small businesses where she had worked.

She was captured at a women's shelter in Norfolk and extradited to Maryland to face charges of embezzling more than $200,000 from St. Mary's Seminary & University in Roland Park. In her time on the run, she had assumed an alias and fleeced an elderly woman in Delaware of tens of thousands of dollars.

Convicted of multiple thefts in the St. Mary's case, McKay was sent back to the women's prison in Jessup. Gibson was gratified, though he didn't assume he had heard the last of her.

"I actually said in dialogue with colleagues that if she was able to, God forbid, get out of jail, she's going to hurt somebody else," said Gibson, now a lieutenant.

Joanne Mauck, who ran a prison ministry at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women in Jessup, was surprised to see McKay again. If there had been one prisoner she believed had truly repented her crimes and longed for a second chance, it had been Cindy McKay.

So when McKay reappeared in the makeshift prison chapel - looking quite chipper to Mauck's eye - Mauck couldn't help herself.

"I am very disappointed in you," she said to McKay.

Mauck never forgot McKay's reply. "Get over it," she snapped.

Perhaps, Mauck thought to herself, she had never really understood McKay at all.

Thanks to good behavior credits, McKay served only one year of an eight-year sentence at Jessup. She was then shipped to a Delaware prison to serve 11 months for swindling the elderly woman.

By the summer of 2005, she was a free woman again and on her way back to Baltimore.

She moved in with Christopher Haarhoff, the third youngest of her six children. She wasted no time wearing out her welcome. Christopher, then 19, kicked McKay out after his girlfriend discovered that McKay had obtained a credit card in her name.

McKay was there long enough to meet a neighbor, Tony Fertitta, a 50-year-old muscle car enthusiast. The two started keeping company and continued after she and another son, 17-year-old Matthew Haarhoff, moved to the Old Mill area.

Fertitta worked two jobs, delivering packages for UPS and loading freight for a wholesaler. He had never been married or had children. He wore gold necklaces and enjoyed flashing wads of bills. He was sweet - some said dopey - around women, though he'd had rotten luck with them.

Fertitta didn't know about McKay's criminal past. Neither did her new employer, Cheryl's Chalets, a portable toilet company (and eventual victim of her larcenies) that hired her as an office manager to replace the owner's daughter, who was leaving for a military tour of duty.

Fertitta took McKay to Ravens games, and they shopped for jewelry together. She told co-workers that they were considering moving in together, and she thought Fertitta might even pop the question. His co-workers remembered him showing off pictures of McKay on the cell phone she had given him for Christmas.

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