Fatal shooting of nightclub owner remains unsolved after 18 years

Police still investigating cold-case killing of Joanne Valentine

September 22, 2011|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

On Monday, it will be eight years since people last gathered in the Arnold driveway where a mortally wounded Joanne Valentine was cradled in her husband's arms.

For a decade, the annual vigil on the anniversary of her homicide drew Valentine's family and friends to the site where she was shot in 1993, a reminder that the killing remained unsolved.

But the vigils ended in 2003, even though the 18-year-old case is still open.

"It's too painful to do it," said Pam Bustard, one of Valentine's sisters, noting that Valentine's husband and one of the couple's sons still live in the home where the shooting occurred.

That Valentine's homicide is still an open case has left the family distraught. That the Anne Arundel County police cold-case unit is still investigating keeps them hopeful.

"It happens on TV — cases get solved," Bustard said, speaking for the family. "There is someone out there who knows something about this case, and we just need them to come forward to say something."

Years have passed with no solid new leads.

Police found the murder weapon within days — in the trunk of a car carrying four shoplifting suspects. Police charged a suspect twice, but both times the charges were dropped.

"There is no physical evidence to link anyone to the crime scene," said Michael Garvey, a retired head of the Montgomery County police homicide unit who is now leading the Valentine case as an investigator with Anne Arundel's cold-case squad.

Investigators say they continue to reinterview witnesses in hopes of shaking out a new recollection of old events. What they need, Garvey said, is "somebody to say, 'This is what happened,' and then we can go back investigate that."

Police are at a loss for a motive. If it was a robbery — random or targeted — it was botched: Valentine was carrying $3,000, but nothing was taken. Police also can't rule out that someone might have been upset with her, but they have no evidence.

About 4 a.m. on Sept. 26, 1993, Valentine, 47, was arriving home from Rumblefish, one of the two nightclubs in Pasadena that her family owned (it has since been sold). In the rainy, predawn darkness — the family later told police the driveway light wasn't working — she pulled into the driveway at the waterfront house she shared with her husband, Vincent, and their teenage sons.

Detectives have pieced together this much, Garvey said: A small foreign car that may have been red pulled up behind Valentine's car. She got out. There was an argument loud enough for neighbors to recall hearing shouting, but not loud enough for them to make out words. One man — possibly with long hair — pulled a gun. Valentine was shot.

Neighbors flipped on lights. The Valentine family's dog was barking. Valentine's husband and children ran to Valentine and called Bustard, who lived nearby.

"It's like a bad TV show," Bustard said, recalling that she immediately contacted her other two sisters. "I got to the house seconds before the ambulance turned in."

Valentine died a few hours later at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

The car carrying the shooter left the scene immediately after Valentine was shot. "It made a whining noise when it backed up, like a standard transmission," said Detective John Gajda of the cold-case unit.

Whether one or two shots were fired is a mystery, Garvey said. Valentine was shot in the neck but also through the right forearm. She may have held her arm up in a self-defense reaction to the gun or she could have been shot twice, Garvey said. The lone bullet that had lodged in her body was recovered.

Within a week of Valentine's slaying, police found the handgun used, a .38-caliber Taurus revolver, in the car trunk of a man they arrested for shoplifting at a Pasadena market. Edward McLeod of West Baltimore was charged with murder, but prosecutors dropped the charge, saying they needed more evidence.

In 1994, there was new hope. Clarence Pittman, charged with kidnapping and carjacking in a separate case, told police that he had heard McLeod and another Baltimore man, Gilbert Eric Griffin, outside a Baltimore crackhouse, boasting about Valentine's slaying the night it happened. Based mostly on the informant's claim, a grand jury indicted McLeod and Griffin on first-degree murder charges that December.

But the case fizzled. Griffin's attorney showed that her client was in a Baltimore County jail when Valentine was killed. Charges were dropped.

The only charge that had traction involved the murder weapon, which had been reported stolen three months before Valentine's slaying from On Target, a Severn gun store. Griffin, McLeod and a third man, Sherman Purviance of Baltimore, were convicted of stealing items from that store, including the gun used to kill Valentine.

Police say they believe both Griffin and Purviance have since died.

Valentine's family, primarily Bustard, stays in touch with police, hoping that one day investigators will tell them that the crime has been solved.

"Maybe one of these times we will be lucky enough to get that phone call," Bustard said.

Anyone with information is asked to call the cold-case unit at 410-222-3460.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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