Arrests made in two Baltimore County killings

Man kills elderly neighbor, police say

June 24, 2010|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

A Dundalk man has been charged in the death of an elderly neighbor who gave him thousands of dollars to pay off credit card debt, hired him to mow her lawn and do other odd jobs, and had even given him a key to her house, according to Baltimore County police. It was one of two homicide arrests in the county this week.

Authorities said in court documents filed Thursday that Michael William Hester, 54, staged an elaborate crime scene by hooking a garden hose to the woman's patio faucet, attaching the other end to a lawn sprinkler and putting it in the woman's bedroom.

That gave him an excuse, police said, to claim he saw water rushing out of the house, call a neighbor and then rush over Tuesday morning. Hester called 911 to report finding the body of 89-year-old Eleanor Marie Haley in her home in the 7200 block of York Drive.

Police Lt. Robert McCullough said the man's story "was inconsistent and did not add up."

Hester, who works as a glass fitter for A.J. Sackett & Sons on Highland Avenue in Baltimore, has no prior criminal record. He was charged Wednesday night with first-degree murder and on Thursday was ordered held without bail.

Police and a neighbor said that Haley watched Hester's children and that Hester did work for Haley, such as mowing her lawn, for which police said she paid him $3,000 a year. Court documents state that Haley recently gave Hester and his wife, Sarah, $15,000 to pay off credit card debt and more money for the couple's child care. Police also said Haley sold or gave Hester prescription pain medication.

But the detailed charging documents do not state whether Hester demanded more money or whether Haley had threatened to cut him off, though McCullough said that the motive "was all about the money."

Neighbor Veronica Webster said she'd known Haley since the day she was born 20 years ago. A day before the killing, they had talked about life.

"I was over [at] her house, and she just wanted me to find a good man to settle down with," Webster said.

In another case, Baltimore County police on Thursday arrested and charged Robert T. Buck, 36, with first-degree murder in the killing of Leslie Jo Rasmussen, a 48-year-old woman whose body was found June 9 inside a house on Holabird Avenue.

Buck gave police an address on Wade Avenue in Catonsville that matches the listing for the Spring Grove psychiatric hospital run by the state and a homeless shelter run by the county. Officials would not comment on whether he lived at either place.

Baltimore County police did not provide details in this case. But the victim's mother and sister described Buck as an acquaintance of Rasmussen.

Rasmussen's mother, Mert Gertino, 71, said her daughter started using methamphetamine after her first divorce and followed a fellow drug user to the Baltimore area about five years ago. The victim's sister, Lisa Barlow, 51, said it's not known whether Rasmussen was addicted to drugs but that she lived a hand-to-mouth existence and was "living in a dark, ugly world."

Relatives in Utah described repeated efforts to help Rasmussen but to no avail.

Both Rasmussen and Buck have criminal records — hers related to drug possession and his for battery, assault and burglary. Barlow said that each time her sister was arrested, "we prayed she would get into drug treatment, but it just didn't work out that way."


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