When Tracey Leigh Gardner went missing five years ago, relatives, friends and even strangers, fearing the worst, spent months looking for her body in vacant lots, empty houses, woods and ponds. They passed out fliers, held vigils, set up a website and made frequent appeals through the news media.
The only person who never joined the quest was her husband, Dennis J. Tetso, according to testimony Tuesday in Baltimore County Circuit Court during his trial for first-degree murder in the presumed death of his wife, who vanished on her way to a Motley Crue concert in Washington and whose body has not been found.
"We searched every Saturday and Sunday for a year," Cathy Gardner, the woman's stepmother, told the jury. "People that didn't know Tracey came out and searched. Sometimes we had as many as 100 people."
Assistant State's Attorney Garret Glennon asked the witness whether Tetso, now 45, had participated in any of the searches. "No, he did not," she replied.
Gardner's family always said publicly that they suspected Tetso in his wife's disappearance, but police were stymied because of the lack of a corpse. Finally, in June 2009, detectives and prosecutors believed they had gathered enough of a case against Tetso to ask a grand jury to return an indictment.
Tetso was arrested and charged soon after. He was released after posting $50,000 bail and agreeing to wear a monitoring device.
A Baltimore County police spokesman, Cpl. Michael Hill, said at the time that it was "very rare" to pursue a first-degree murder charge without a body, but suggested that "new technology" had finally enabled prosecutors to proceed with the Tetso case. "Detectives are always being trained," he said. "In reviewing the case once again, they felt they were at a position where they could go. And the state's attorney's office agreed."
Gardner's disappearance drew attention from national missing-persons groups, and Motley Crue offered a $10,000 reward for information about her. The hunt for Gardner's body extended across Baltimore County — the couple had been living in her house in Rosedale — and into Anne Arundel County, where her black Pontiac Trans Am was found in a Glen Burnie parking lot 10 days after her disappearance in March 2005. Surveillance video showed the blurry figure of a man leaving the car there on the night Gardner went missing.
Prosecutors have suggested that Gardner might have been killed because she was having an affair. In court on Tuesday, Keith E. Liebermann, who had worked at a cement company with both Gardner and her husband, told the jury that Tetso was suspicious of his wife and feared that she was "fooling around." Tetso asked Liebermann to "let him know if I heard anything interesting" and in December 2004 Liebermann did just that, playing for Tetso a recording of Gardner speaking at length and "in code" with another co-worker, Christian Sinnott.
"He wasn't happy," Liebermann said, recalling that Tetso always said there were three things he didn't like: liars, cheats and anyone who might want to take his money. Shortly afterwards, Liebermann said, Tetso told him he had placed a recording device on the couple's home telephone to monitor his wife's calls and had "borrowed someone's van" so that he could follow her undetected.
It was Sinnott, prosecutors say, who was supposed to meet Gardner at the Motley Crue concert on the night she disappeared. Jurors on Tuesday heard recordings of anguished messages left by Sinnott on Gardner's cell phone that night and the following day, wondering where she was and what had happened to their date.
"Baby girl, what are you doing?" Sinnott asked. "You got me seriously, seriously worried about you."