The Laurel Chronicles
By Kevin Leonard
Welcome to the “Laurel Chronicles.” After years of writing the “History Matters” column in the Laurel Leader, Kevin will post this feature here frequently for more local history stories. Notices for new columns will be posted on The Laurel History Boys’ Facebook page.
August 31, 2021
History Crumbs, Vol 3
These short bits of history tend to pile up as I do more research on various topics. Unless otherwise credited, all quotes are from the Laurel Leader.
In April, the Town Charter had numerous sections dealing with keeping hogs confined. Section 22 gave the Town Commissioners the authority to “pass ordinances to prevent horses and swine from running at large” within the town limits. Section 23 prohibited citizens from allowing “his or her hog or hogs to run at large” in the town, with such runaway hogs subject to impoundment. The fine for impounded hogs was fifty cents a day for a maximum of three days. After that, the Town Bailiff held a public sale of the hogs. And Section 26 empowered the Commissioners “to erect a suitable enclosure for the impounding of all hogs found running at large” within the town. Using the powers granted to them, the Town Commissioners passed the first ordinance in the new town of Laurel that established a $2.00 fine for permitting hogs to run wild in the streets.
In February, the following notice was published in the Leader: “Will the handsome young woman in blue dress and jacket, who arrived in Washington by train, at 1:40 o’clock, Tuesday, February 4, kindly send an address or acknowledge this by a line to the respectful admirer, whom she noticed? Address, Henry Marchell Clayton, General Post Office, Washington, D.C.”
In November, the Bull Moose party’s “flying squadron” stopped in Laurel for a rally. The Bull Moose party, a nickname for the Progressive Party, was a third political party formed by former president Theodore Roosevelt after he lost the Republican party’s nomination to incumbent president William Howard Taft. Accompanied by a band, the “squadron” was making campaign stops throughout Maryland led by George Gaither, the Republican candidate for Governor and a Roosevelt supporter. After the rally, “the speakers, the band and followers of the Bull Moose went to the Clover Leaf Inn where lunch was served.”
In February, the Women’s Civic League sponsored a public lecture by Brig. Gen. E.S. Godfrey, who was one of the troop commanders at the Little Bighorn Battle where Custer and his men were slaughtered. Gen. Godfrey was 72 at the time of the lecture.
In March, the Leader published an editorial titled “Airplanes of Little Value.” The newspaper declared “an examination of these machines soon discloses the fact that they are of little practical value. They are too small to be steady in flight, too low-powered to fly under moderately adverse conditions, too flimsy to last long, and, taking it all in all, absolutely worthless for serious work of any kind. They should generally be treated as novelties.”
In March, some residents circulated a petition asking the Mayor and City Council to approve movies being shown at the Laurel Theater on Sundays, which was prohibited.
More than half of Laurel’s volunteer firemen were sent off to war, so 11 members of the Ladies Auxiliary stepped in and trained as firefighters to supplement the firemen still in town. The women were led by Goldie Hoffman, who was a member of the Auxiliary since 1929, and frequently drove the hook and ladder truck to fires.
In November, a video production company came to Laurel to film a Coast Guard recruiting film. “The story centers around a local high school senior who has enlisted in the United States Coast Guard and Laurel figures in the story as he departs for basic training and later returns.” Laurel was chosen to be the location of the film by the Commanding Officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Receiving Center at Cape May New Jersey, Capt. T. Young Awalt, a former resident of Laurel. Three Laurel High School seniors—Elizabeth Loveless, Robert Harmon, and John Weagly—had minor roles in the film.
In November, eight stores in the Laurel Shopping Center were burglarized overnight. Laurel Police Chief Malcolm Brown said the burglars entered each store “by ingeniously manipulating the front door with a pry bar” and that “no glass was broken in any of the stores.” The stolen loot, estimated to be worth $1,300 by police, included cash from registers, two 12-lb. bags of coffee from White Coffee Pot, a Polaroid camera and tape recorder from Howard Studio, costume jewelry from Shirley’s, and five straight razors from Bart’s Barber Shop. Only cash was taken from Terry Shop, Lili’s Children’s Shop, C.A. Leppert, and High’s. Three weeks later, three men from Montgomery County were apprehended in Ohio while stealing a safe. The men confessed to numerous burglaries, including those at the Laurel Shopping Center. Chief Brown reported that the suspects “all come from fine, respectable homes.”
In October, a group called Project Commitment, which worked toward “interracial understanding,” unveiled the first of a series of exhibits at the Stanley Memorial Library detailing the “American Negro’s contributions” to society. The first exhibit highlighted “The Black American’s Contributions to Science and Technology.” As reported in the News Leader, “In their research, Project Commitment learned that American Negroes should be credited with such contributions as the golf tee, potato chip, the light bulb socket, the paper bag ice cream, and the shoe last.” Future exhibits were planned to highlight “the American Negro’s contributions to culture and his role in Colonial America.”
In December, Mary Bedford Snowden, the last of the Laurel-born Snowdens, died. She was born at Snowden Hall, which is now located within the boundary of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. She was a direct descendant of Richard Snowden, one of the original settlers of Laurel.
In December, a man stopped at the Holmes Oil Company gas station on Route 1 with car trouble. Holmes didn’t offer mechanical services—it only pumped gas. The man called a mechanic from a pay phone, but after 45 minutes, he apparently got tired of waiting for the mechanic. So he apologetically held up the gas station. “I hate to do this to you, but give me the money,” he said to the gas attendant, brandishing a handgun. Laurel Police said he ran north on Route 1, with $60 from the station’s till.
In July, the first recorded tornado to ever strike Laurel downed about 50 trees on Patuxent Greens Golf Course and damaged houses in the Oakcrest neighborhood. Janet Andreone’s home was demolished by a large oak tree that split her house in two and blocked both doors leading outside. There were no injuries reported.
In September, just weeks after the 9/11 attack, another tornado swept through the area on a northward route, tearing off roofs of Laurel High School on Cherry Lane, the Westgate apartments, the Harrison-Beard Building on Montgomery Street (the old Laurel Police Department headquarters), and the Settler’s Landing townhouse development off Route 216 in North Laurel. Houses in Fairlawn were in the path of the tornado and many sustained major damage. Officials said almost 175 houses in Laurel were damaged. The tornado, a spawn of a much larger weather system coming from Virginia, was believed to have started in College Park, where two sisters from Clarksville, both students at the University of Maryland, were killed when their car was picked up and tossed into a tree. After Laurel, it continued north into Howard County, where it finally petered out northeast of Columbia. The tornado travelled more than 17 miles. This time there were over 50 injuries in addition to the two students’ deaths.
In 2002, after years of negotiations with Prince George’s County and the City of Laurel, the Laurel Boys & Girls club took ownership of the Edward Phelps Community Center, which was housed in the old Laurel High School on Montgomery Street. The club had been using the building since 1974 for $1 a year. The county initially offered the building to the city, but the extensive repairs necessary to keep the building open caused them to turn it down. Four years later, in 2006, Patrick Reed, the Executive Director of the club, searched club property records and discovered that the county had accidentally deeded the adjacent McCullough Field along with the building to the club. The city had entered into a 98-year lease for the field with PG County in 1977. But Club President Levet Brown would not acknowledge that a legal error had been made, and went so far as to announce new plans for the field: a sports park with artificial turf and lights, with existing city-run adult leagues and Pallotti High School teams taking a backseat to Boys & Girls Club programs. In the end, the club extorted some concessions to allow the city to have their own field back. Specifically, the city agreed to pay $183,000 to replace the basketball floor in the gymnasium and $35,000 each year for the next three years towards operating funds, extend tax credits to the club, continue to maintain the property as it had been, and various other usage arrangements.
Richard Friend and Rick McGill contributed to this article.
May 30, 2021
[Note: This story is a preview of one of the many stories in our forthcoming book about the history of retail in Laurel.]
Death Cars on Tour
The public’s appetite for lurid exhibits was on display twice in Laurel involving automobiles with gruesome histories, and both were subject to doubt about authenticity.
Bonnie & Clyde’s Death Car
In April 1934, six weeks before his death, notorious killer and bank robber Clyde Barrow wrote a letter to Henry Ford, praising his cars. The letter, which is housed in the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Michigan, read:
Mr. Henry Ford
While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got every other car skinned, and even if my business hasen’t been strickly legal it don’t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8.
Clyde Champion Barrow
Just before the letter was written, Ruth Warren of Topeka, Kansas, bought a new 1934 Ford Model 730 Deluxe Sedan for $835 in March. A month later, on April 29, 1934, her car was stolen by Bonnie & Clyde. Their gang had been on a crime spree for the past 20 months across the Midwest and police were hot on their trail. One month later, on May 23, 1934, after putting an additional 2,500 miles on Warren’s new car, Bonnie & Clyde were killed by police in an ambush near Sailes, Bienville Parish, Louisiana.
The six officers, led by former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, each had an automatic rifle, a shotgun, and a pistol, and each officer emptied all of his guns, continuing to fire when the car drifted off the road into a ditch and came to a stop. The bodies had 50 bullet holes between them, and the car was punctured with an additional 160 bullet holes. The interior of the car was covered in blood.
After a minor legal dispute with local authorities, Warren’s car was returned to her, and she drove it back to Topeka, bullet holes, blood, and all. The car instantly became a source of fascination and plenty of hucksters were itching to get their hands on it. The car changed hands many times over the years by exhibitors, who took it on tours around the country. The public’s fascination with the car led to a handful of fakes that also toured the country.
In Laurel, the Academy Garage on Washington Boulevard had the car on display for one day, May 29, 1940. The ad announcing the display of the car covered with bullet holes and dried blood was interesting, to say the least:
“An educational exhibit proving that crime doesn’t pay. Bring the children!”
Bonnie & Clyde’s Death Car has been on display in a casino in Primm, Nevada since 1988. Although some still doubt its authenticity, it has been verified by experts as the genuine article.
In the waning days of World War II, Sgtgoo Joe Azara and the rest of the Twentieth Armored Division found themselves deep in Germany fending off the last gasp of the Nazis, who would surrender days later. While on patrol, Azara came upon a huge automobile fastened to a railroad car. He sneaked up and engaged in a firefight with the four Germans guarding the auto. The Nazis eventually gave up and Sgt Azara had probably the most unique captured war souvenir—Hitler’s limousine, or so he thought.
This was no ordinary limo: a 1941 230-horsepower Mercedes-Benz Grosser 770K Model open touring car with room for eight passengers. It was 20 feet long and seven feet wide, carried a 52-gallon tank, fitted with 1¼ inch bulletproof windows and armor plating, and had 13 secret compartments to stash Lugers. The beast weighed nearly 5 tons.
Hitler’s limo shared a few things with Bonnie & Clyde’s Death Car: hucksters couldn’t wait to get their hands on it, there were doubts about its authenticity, it toured the country on exhibit, and there were a handful of fakes promoted as the real thing. Even though Sgt Azara’s captured limo was eventually identified as Herman Göring’s personal limo, not Hitler’s, publicity for the exhibits usually continued to use Hitler’s name.
Accompanied by Sgt Azara—who became known as “GI Joe” in the media—the car toured the country for the government raising money for charity and publicity for war bond sales. As described in Robert Klara’s book, The Devil’s Mercedes, “As 1950 approached, [the] Hitler car had traveled twenty thousand miles and stopped in forty cities, and in the following two years it would crisscross the country three times.” The car appeared in Frederick, Towson, and Cumberland, Maryland, and Washington, DC.
To confuse things, there were plenty of Nazi limousines and staff cars seized by the U.S. Army. As Klara puts it, “It’s anyone’s guess how many Hitler cars were ‘discovered’ in the years after the war, but there were enough of them out there that suspicions about their authenticity appeared pretty early.” But whose was whose? According to Klara, “from day one, neither the army nor the Treasury Department troubled itself to keep any of the cars’ identities straight and, in fact, seemed comfortable with using them interchangeably.” The staff curator at Aberdeen Proving Ground, where some of the autos were stored, said, “No history of any of these vehicles was furnished this office.”
On April 26, 1951, the Leader’s headline announced, “Hitler’s Car Coming Here May 1.” It was displayed at Hudnet’s Texaco Station on Route 1 with the Veterans of Foreign Wars to benefit from donations. But was the car displayed in Laurel actually Hitler’s? When I showed him the clipping from the Leader, Klara explained,
“This was the French Pullman. I wrote about it in the book.
It was captured in Berchtesgaden on May 7, 1945, by the Free French Forces under the command of Gen. Leclerc, who later presented it to Charles de Gaulle. After the war, the French shuttled the car between Paris and Lyon to raise money for charities. The car came to the United States at some point, and it wound up in that warehouse in Syracuse. It was most certainly part of the fleet of limousines available to the Nazi elite. But whether it ever carried Hitler is very difficult to say. Hitler did not care for hard-top limos, and that’s what this car is. I recall from somewhere that he only rode in one of these cars a couple of times. At most, if memory serves me correctly, maybe even just once. As with so many of the purported ‘Hitler Cars,’ it’s just impossible to substantiate the usage unless you have a photo showing the original license plate and Hitler riding in the car. Even then, it’s hard, since most of the plates disappeared. Anyway, this car was in the garage at Berchtesgaden, so probably carried Hitler’s awful henchmen. As for Hitler? Maybe. We just don’t know. Or, rather, I don’t know personally. There were so many of these Benzes running around after the war that tracking down all of them and attempting to run down the histories for each would literally be a lifetime’s work. Alas, that will have to be someone else’s lifetime.”
March 29, 2021
History Crumbs, Vol 2
These short bits of history tend to pile up as I do more research on various topics. Unless otherwise credited, all quotes are from the Laurel Leader.
In May, it was announced that a Pound and Prison House was to be built on a lot donated by Mr. Frank Collier, provided the town would remove any and all improvements if requested by him in the future. The lot was also to be used for impounded livestock. The Laurel Commissioners accepted a bid from C.F. Shaffer, owner of the Shaffer Lumber Company, who offered to build the jail for $20. However, not quite two years later, the Commissioners’ meeting minutes reported that “James Brown was arrested and jailed in the lock-up for drunk & disorderly; he then broke out of lock-up.” Mr. Collier then decided it was not secure enough and requested it be removed per the original agreement.
The 9th Street Bridge next to the pool at the end of Main Street that was swept away by Hurricane Agnes in 1972 was actually the second bridge on that spot. The original bridge was constructed in 1808 and was also swept away by flood waters in 1889 caused by the Johnston, Pennsylvania flood.
In January, Andrew Carnegie wrote to Mayor Edward Phelps and agreed to donate $10,000 for a library in Laurel if a site is donated in town and $1,000 annually for maintenance of the library building. There is no evidence the offer was accepted, as Laurel’s first library was not opened until 1916.
In November, PG County Police Officer J. Randolph Brown was found dead in a buggy at French’s Livery Stable in Laurel by an employee at the stable. Brown had rented a horse and buggy the night before to serve a summons. According to the Leader, on the way back “he stopped at The Pines and had something to drink and also bought a quart bottle of whiskey for medical use, which was found untouched in the bottom of the buggy.” William Diven, bartender at The Pines, testified that Brown was not intoxicated when he left the bar. But, officials said, “the left side of his face and under his chin was scraped and bruised, evidently caused by falling against the wheel while the horse was moving.” The horse, without any direction from Brown, returned to the stable. His autopsy reported his death “from unknown causes.”
In June, Frank L. Martin published a notice in the Leader: “I wish to state that the rumor to this effect that my wife found letters in my pocket from other women is absolutely false. The letter was put there by a person who works with me, as a practical joke, which I can prove to those interested.”
In June, the Leader reported a New York divorce case in which the father, seeking custody of the couple’s son, claimed that “the child has been practically abandoned by the mother” because “she smokes cigarettes.” The judge rejected the argument, telling the court “that it is quite a common custom among many refined women in the larger cities of the world to smoke cigarettes.”
In October, “Mr. Walter Fisher, while cranking an automobile on Sunday, broke his arm.”
The Laurel Free Public Library opened in the Patuxent Bank building in two rooms on the floor above the Post Office. Maintained by the Laurel Library Association, members were charged $1 per year. The library faced constant financial problems paying its rent until 1929, when it relocated to donated space at 384 Main Street.
In January, Laurel resident Private Arthur Phelps, who was serving with the 313th Machine Gun Company in France, wrote a letter to his sister, Edna. The letter read: “I went over to call upon some of the 23rd Engineers today, and on my way over I had to pass a lot of German prisoners whom we captured in our first drive, and one of them yelled my name and to my surprise it was a boy whom I went to school with at School No. 1, in my home town, Laurel. What do you know about this? He asked me about Miss Annie Wilson, who taught us and also whether my father was still keeping store. I was not allowed to talk to him long for it is against the rules to talk to them.” His father, Edward Phelps, a former Mayor, had at that point owned a store in Laurel for decades. Arthur did not identify the German prisoner from Laurel.
In April, the Leader editorialized: “SHALL WOMEN SWEAR? On the other hand, an anti-swearer comes across with this compelling argument: ‘It just won’t do at all because it distorts the face. Cussing must be done forcibly, to be effective. This hardens the mouth, wrinkles the brow and brings on premature age. An angry face is never beautiful. Men have used strong language since the beginning of time. That is why there are so few good-looking men.’ That should settle the question. On the face of it, the negative wins. A representative of the swearing sex can only offer, as a clincher, this modest addendum to the argument: ‘With all men’s swearing, at life, at fate, fortune, accident, misery, women, and things in general, what has it got them?’”
In January, a robbery of Sol Laserovits’ jewelry store on Main Street went very badly. Three armed men entered the store with what appeared to be a plan. While one robber tied the proprietor to a chair, a second one scooped up jewelry (later valued at $1,000), and the third robber went outside and retrieved the getaway car. But the driver “got scared and started towards Washington” on Route 1, “leaving the other two who tried to make their escape on foot.” The two robbers left behind were quickly captured and police closed in on the panicked driver of the getaway car. “Finding himself between officers,” the driver killed himself with his pistol. “Naturally,” according to the Leader, “the holdup caused a good deal of excitement in the town for several hours.”
In November, a passenger on a bus stopping at the terminal on the corner of Main Street and Washington Boulevard saw flames coming from the rear of the Laurel Hotel on the opposite corner. The passenger tried to get someone’s attention in the hotel by banging on the front door, but no one answered. So, the Good Samaritan threw a rock through a second story window, awakening the housekeeper, who called the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department. The fire caused extensive damage to the rear of the hotel and the kitchen. There was no word on what activity inside the hotel precluded anyone from hearing the commotion outside.
In June, on his way back to Washington from Baltimore, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall stopped at the Laurel Pharmacy for a soda at the lunch counter. While the General sipped his soda and chatted with a few customers who recognized him, his chauffeur waited in his car on Washington Boulevard in front of the pharmacy. Laurel Police pulled up and ordered the chauffeur to move the vehicle.
Olney Theater had a banner season in 1951, with three Hollywood veterans headlining shows. In August, Veronica Lake, a major movie star throughout the 1940s (Sullivan’s Travels), starred in “The Curtain Rises” at Olney. In September, Leo G. Carroll, star of stage and screen since the 1930s (and who would go on to play Mr. Waverly, the boss in The Man From U.N.C.L.E in the 1960s), starred in “Home at Seven” at Olney. Following Carroll’s appearance, Olney then staged “Pal Joey,” starring Carol Bruce, the star of dozens of films since 1941.
In March, the Fort Meade branch of the Citizens National Bank of Laurel was robbed by a “tall, nattily dressed man, wearing a visored cap and a trench-type overcoat” who commanded teller Hazel Gore, from Scaggsville, to “fill this bag” that he handed to her. The man then “took a glass jar from his pocket, removed the cap, thrust it near her face, and said ‘Smell it, it’s acid.’ The robber then told Stuart Dorset, the branch manager, ‘Put the money in the bag or I’ll throw acid in the lady’s face.’” The bank later reported the robber made off with $19,800. The FBI analyzed some drops spilled from the jar and confirmed it was “a dilute solution of sulfuric acid.”
In April, emergency responders dealt with three bomb scares around town. The first two, at Polan’s on Main Street and then in another store, were quickly determined to be fakes. The third, however, at Laurel High School, was more realistic and caused much more commotion. A juvenile caller to the school claimed a bomb would go off within two hours. The school was evacuated, and police began a search. Laurel Police Officer Wallace Mitchell opened a locker and heard a buzzing sound under some papers. He found the homemade device that resembled a bomb but turned out to be a battery and buzzer with a switch rigged to when the locker was opened. “We’re going to send someone to jail for a long time when we catch up with the person who has been causing phony bomb scares around here,” said Laurel Police Chief Robert Kaiser.
In November, the City Council nixed the idea proposed by the Director of Laurel’s Parks & Recreation, Judith Nigh, for a “dance at the bottom of the Laurel Swimming Pool,” which would presumably be drained. Nigh thought the dance “would be quite a novelty” and that it would be “open to all teens in town.” “Has this ever been tried anywhere else in the United States?” asked Mayor Merrill Harrison. “From the expression on her face, it was clear that the young recreation director thought her idea was an original.” The council’s negative reaction to her proposal prompted Nigh to ask, “‘What is the town’s policy on bon fires?’, suggesting that the dance be held on the Laurel Swimming Pool parking lot with the dancers being warmed by the fire.” “Not on the macadam!” exclaimed Clerk Treasurer Harold T. Rice “excitedly.” It’s unclear if the dance was ever held.
In February, Columbia developer James Rouse told the Laurel Area Chamber of Commerce that both Laurel and Columbia would have populations of more than 100,000 by 1980. At a general membership meeting and dinner at the Colony 7 restaurant, Rouse gave some advice to Laurel’s planners. “You are the power structure of Laurel—you can accomplish more together than any other same-size group in this area.” His prediction was not quite accurate. In 1990—10 years after Rouse’s prediction of 100,000—Laurel had approximately 20,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It wasn’t until 2010 that Columbia was roughly 500 people short of 100,000.
Two of Laurel’s oldest bars closed within two months of each other in 1983. The misnamed Fyffe’s Service Center, which had two non-working gas pumps outside for as long as anyone could remember, closed first in May. The half-bar, half-convenience store was located on the corner of Sandy Spring Road and Montgomery Street. Owners Walter and Harry Fyffe opened the bar in the early 1950s. Then, in July, the Laurel Tavern on Main Street closed its doors for good when owner Bill Miles did not renew the bar’s lease. Dennis McCahill originally opened the Laurel Tavern in the 1930s after he opened another, Town Tavern, up the street at Sixth and Main Streets.
In July, Anne Arundel County announced plans for an amphitheater next to Fort Meade at the intersection of Route 32 and the Baltimore Washington Parkway. The planned facility “would be bigger and better than Columbia’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, said David Boschert, Anne Arundel County Council Chairman.” The plan went nowhere.
In October, six people were shot dead in Montgomery County and Washington, DC over two days. The shooter was dubbed the “Beltway Sniper” by the media. For the next two weeks, the shootings increased over a wider area, extending into Virginia. Fear gripped the entire region and people modified some common habits, such as where, when and how to pump their own gas. In the middle of this terrorizing spree, a 13-year-old student at a middle school in Bowie was shot and wounded. All over the region, this prompted action by school systems and communities now that a child had been a victim of the shooters. Laurel Police, armed with automatic rifles, were a visible presence at both area high schools. The snipers were caught on October 24 and life returned to normal. But Laurel apparently had a close call. When photos of the snipers appeared on television, Laurel resident Katrina Carroll realized she had encountered them in the parking lot at Laurel Lakes, in front of the Safeway. This was the same day the student was shot at Bowie. Carroll told police she saw John Allen Muhammad crouched down in a Blue Chevrolet Caprice between the dashboard and the front seat. He then drove off, presumably to Bowie. Carroll wondered if her encounter with him “could have blundered his attempt to kill someone” in Laurel.
Former Laurel High School wrestling coach Beryle Cohen was inducted in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. Cohen started the wrestling program at Laurel in 1960 and in 17 years as coach, the team won six regional titles, two state titles, and boasted an undefeated dual meet record from 1972 to 1978.
The iconic Tastee Freez on Route 1 was demolished, revealing the old red and white tiles underneath the outside walls from the original restaurant on the site: McDonald’s.
Laurel High School’s 1600-meter relay team set a record in the state championship, qualifying them for the National High School Track & Field Meet in New York City. Seniors Joel Roberson, Christian White, Jonta Miles, and Jovan Roberson ran a state-record 3:24.11 in the Maryland State Championships.
American Legion Post 60 in Laurel celebrated its 100th anniversary.
Richard Friend and Rick McGill contributed to this article.
February 12, 2021
Howard County’s History of Lynching
A few years ago, I became aware of an ambitious research project to document all the horrific lynchings from Maryland’s past. High school students from the Park School of Baltimore, under the direction of teacher Daniel Jacoby, published a remarkable 45-page pamphlet in 2017 that summarized five of the lynchings and described their project, methodology, and resources.
According to Shawn Gladden, Executive Director of the Howard County Historical Society, there were three documented lynchings in Howard County (in 1884, 1885, and 1895) and a few near-lynchings, including one in 1908 that was averted by a catastrophe. Efforts are ongoing to discover other undocumented lynchings in Howard County’s past. This column describes the last documented lynching in 1895 (which was also part of the Park School narrative), as well as the near-lynching in 1908.
1895: Jacob Henson is Lynched
In almost every newspaper account, Jacob Henson was described as a “young colored man” without specifying his age. Police, prosecutors, and even his own “colored” lawyer (as part of his defense) said he was “stupid,” “slow,” and “half-witted.” He worked as a store clerk for Daniel Shea, 51, an Irish immigrant who owned a general store and tobacco room on Main Street in Ellicott City.
At closing time on Feb. 19, 1895, Henson, who had been drinking for a few hours, came by the store with some beer to drink with Shea. Later, neighbor John Dorsey testified that he saw Henson running away from the store. Shea was dead inside, a victim of numerous head wounds.
Henson was arrested that night and charged with murder. Blood was found on his clothes and on a hatchet left in the store. He was brought to the Howard County Jail in Ellicott City.
The only written account of what happened was provided by Henson while he was in jail. “He wrote it out in a neat hand,” according to the Baltimore Sun. In his account, parts of which were disproved at trial, he admitted to killing Shea.
Ellicott City, February 19, 1895. — I went to Mr. Shea’s store that night about 8 or 8.30 with some beer and he had his shutters closed and the blind in the door. Mr. Shea closed the door, locked it and put the bar across the door. I was standing up against the wall. I and Mr. Shea drank the beer together and had a little quarrel over the beer. Then Mr. Shea struck me three times in the breast, stunning me for a while, and I picked up the hatchet and struck Mr. Shea with the handle part of it. The first time I can remember striking him he was nearly at the end of the counter and the last time I can remember of striking him he was leaning over the counter. Afterward he fell with his head in the corner, and then I started to go upstairs. Before I went upstairs I took a long pocketbook off the counter and put it in my hip pocket of my old pants and when I came to look for it it was not there. It was a five dollar bill in it. I am most sure I lost the money that night, that’s the candid truth. When I went upstairs my nose commenced to bleed. I left the hatchet on the chair. Emann Cole was not to be seen. John Dorsey was the only person to be seen. I did not do the deed on purpose. I did it in self-defense. Washed my hands before I left the room. Left bright light burning downstairs. There was no light at all upstairs. It was all done through drunkenness and excitedness. Did not hear any knocks at the door. More excited than anything else. First time arrested, first time before any court, fair reputation in Ellicott City and surroundings, and also beg the mercies of the court. This is a true statement.
J. Henson, Jr.
E. City, Md.
Anyone else getting on the stand at the courthouse and making statements thereon, except Detective Pohler, are not true. I did not strike him after he fell.
The supposedly “stupid,” “slow,” and “half-witted” Henson also wrote poetry while jailed:
A many a day have I sat
Inside these prison walls,
A waiting for the day to come
That I may see my doom.
At Henson’s trial spectators “filled every foot of space in the courtroom” in the Howard County Courthouse, reported the Sun. Baltimore City Detective Herman Pohler, who was brought in to investigate the crime, testified that Henson’s confession “was obtained without extorting it from him by any threats or by offering him any sort of reward.”
The prosecution had doctors testify that Henson was “a little stupid and slow … but not unsound in mind.” W. Ashby Hawkins, Henson’s prominent Black lawyer, also “contended that it had been shown by numerous witnesses that the prisoner was regarded as a poor half-witted creature, incapable of any crime. The many so-called confessions and the verses he wrote, the counsel contended, all proved the prisoner’s unsound mind.”
Prosecutors challenged some of Henson’s written confession. Apparently, Shea was missing almost $200 from his store, not $5 as told by Henson. That was advanced as motive for the killing. The money was never found.
Henson claimed that he “struck Mr. Shea with the handle” and “did not strike [Shea] after he fell,” but testimony revealed that in preparing Shea’s body for burial “twenty-five distinct gashes” were in his head from the hatchet.
The trial was over in one day. The jury took just 25 minutes to convict Henson. According to the Sun, “One of the jurors said the verdict had been agreed upon unanimously at the first ballot taken, and that the jury had remained out to take a little rest.”
Six days later, Henson was sentenced to be hanged for the crime. Hawkins made an appeal to Governor Frank Brown for executive clemency. For almost two months, Henson sat in the Howard County Jail awaiting word on his appeal.
On May 27, a team of doctors, including two from the Maryland State Lunacy Commission, examined Henson “inquiring into the mental condition of the condemned murderer,” reported the Sun. The doctors told the Sun that their examination would “show that Henson is considered sane and responsible for his actions,” permitting his sentence to be carried out.
But word spread through Ellicott City of the doctors’ visit. Rumors abounded that the Governor, who did not support the death penalty, would set Henson free.
The day after the doctors examined Henson in his cell, mob rule took over. The Sun ran a very detailed account of what happened next—so detailed that the reporter had to have been there, even though it didn’t say so.
At the jail a few of the lynchers wore hoods, others had on long garments that hung over their heads and down to their waists, and others still improvised a disguise with nothing more than a pocket handkerchief.
He was taken, after being bound and gagged, to Merrick’s Lane, beyond Patapsco Heights, and there was hanged to a dogwood tree. … A placard was left pinned to his breast, on which was written:
We respect our court and judges. Governor Brown forced the law-abiding citizens to carry out the verdict of the jury.
According to Matt Reimann on Timeline.com, White Caps “members had long practiced their own kind of law and order in the country, as part of a decades-long tradition of vigilantism and violence in the United States known as whitecapping. … The moniker derives from the white coverings its bandits would wear on their nocturnal rides. … [Historians] trace the origin of Whitecaps to 1887, as partial inheritors of vigilante traditions as established by runaway slave patrols and anti-horse-thief committees, and of codes of secrecy and obedience inspired by the Klan of Reconstruction (which was around from the late 1860s to the early 1870s).”
In the decades after the Civil War, attitudes in Ellicott City mirrored those in the rest of border state Maryland: divided between Union and Confederate sympathy. In Ellicott City, this division was represented by two of the most prominent residents: James Melvin, the publisher of the Ellicott City Democrat, continued to be pro-slavery, and Frank Oldfield, an official in the county’s Republican party, was against both slavery and the death penalty.
Oldfield, who a year later would become the Howard County Sheriff, is famous for his later career with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which was then the highest-ranking federal law enforcement agency. He is credited with ferreting out corruption in government and taking on the Mafia’s Black Hand Society, resulting in the 1909 imprisonment of 16 members of the society.
In Inspector Oldfield and the Black Hand Society, a biography of Oldfield written by his great-grandson William Oldfield and Victoria Bruce, Frank Oldfield’s outrage about the lynching is described.
Oldfield knew precisely who was leading the call to lynch Henson. In a later hearing, Oldfield described how James Melvin … came to him after the trial. Melvin asked Oldfield to join a gang that planned to break Henson out of jail and hang him.
Many Ellicott City southern Democrats despised free blacks and had no moral qualms about taking matters into their own hands and lynching Henson, whether he was guilty or not. It was a fact about his fellow citizens that Oldfield despised. It made him feel as if the South had not really accepted its loss. He knew organized cowards were out to recruit gang members from sympathetic white neighborhoods. They called themselves the “White Caps,” and they loathed Republicans and northern Democrats supportive of free blacks like Governor Brown, who won his election with nearly 100 percent of the black vote. The Ellicott City Democrats were sure the governor would grant Henson clemency.
Henson’s family declined to claim the body because of the nature of the heinous crime. But, according to the Sun, the undertaker “was not able to get permission for the internment in any land about Ellicott City, and the sheriff found himself compelled to bury the corpse on his farm, eight or ten miles distant.”
Also, according to the Sun, “The tree upon which Henson was hanged has been cut to pieces by relic-hunters.”
1908: Catastrophe Precludes a Lynching
Lynchings may have ceased in Howard County after Jacob Henson was killed (documented lynchings, at least), but the bigoted bloodlust apparently never waned.
In December 1908, well-to-do Clarksville farmer Charles Hill “was attacked by a negro, whom he was giving a ride in his farm wagon, and robbed of a purse containing $40. The negro, leaving his victim for dead, escaped,” according to the Cumberland Evening Times. But Hill recovered consciousness and was taken home to recover from a fractured skull caused by a rock thrown by his assailant.
Using the description of his assailant provided by Hill, Catonsville Police arrested a Black man, William Hatwood, who was well known in Ellicott City, having worked there for some time. “News of the arrest of Hatwood spread quickly through the county seat [Ellicott City] and a large crowd was on hand to await his arrival” at the Ellicott City Jail, reported the Evening Times. The same Ellicott City Jail from which Jacob Henson was abducted with no resistance by a mob 13 years ago.
This time, there was no doubt as to what Hatwood’s fate would be.
The Evening Times described the crowd waiting for Hatwood’s arrival: “While the crowd is orderly there is evidently an undercurrent of feeling which needs only a leader to start an assault on the little stone jail. Cooler heads are counseling against such course, at least until the man has been fully identified as the assailant of Mr. Hill.”
The next day, December 29, 1908, the small courtroom in Easton Hall in Ellicott City was overflowing by residents “attracted by the rumor that there would be a lynching,” according to the Baltimore Afro American Ledger. “Residents of the county packed the hall until there was hardly room to move.”
After the warrant was read aloud by the County Sheriff, Mr. Hill was called to the stand by Justice Bernard Wallenhorst, who asked Hill, “Is that the man?”
The Laurel Leader described what happened next:
“Yes, it is,” replied Mr. Hill with emphasis, pointing towards the negro, who sat on a bench beside Sheriff Howard shaking with fear.
The moment Mr. Hill made his identification the crowd surged forward toward the middle of the room. Angry threats were heard. … Many threats to lynch had been heard before the trial was called. Excitement was expected the moment the identification was made, but the scene actually presented was different from the one anticipated.
The crowd pressing forward, faces flushed with varying emotions; the magistrate with hand raised protestingly; the trembling negro staring at his accuser, and then—an awful cracking sound.
The floor split from one end to the other, in the middle, and both halves opened downward as if swung from hinges at the walls. The moment the floor caved in everyone was jammed toward the middle of the room, and the concentrated weight made the fall all the more violent.
Media reports said about 100 men and boys (women weren’t allowed in the courtroom) fell 20 feet to the concrete first floor below in a mass of people, debris, and furniture. “Those on the outside jumped through windows to the ground or clutched remaining uprights to support themselves,” reported the New York Tribune.
Among the list of the most seriously injured in the fall were Justice Wallenhorst, both the Howard County Sheriff and Deputy Sheriff, attorneys, at least four policemen, and numerous residents of Howard County. “Among the worst sufferers were William Hall, a reporter for a Baltimore newspaper, who had both legs and his jaw broken,” reported the Tribune.
Amazingly, Hatwood was uninjured. It’s unclear who brought him back to the jail.
The catastrophe may have put a halt on the proceedings, but it had no effect on the prevailing attitude of some of the citizens. “The fact that the entire police force of the place had been disabled was commented upon and used as an argument that it would be easy to rush the jail and hurry Hatwood to a convenient tree. Sober counsel prevailed, however,” according to the Tribune.
State officials, well aware of the lynching talk, and given the shortage of police after the crash, moved Hatwood to another location out of the county to await the continuation of his trial.
At least three men died from injuries sustained in the crash, including Justice Wallenhorst.
Shawn Gladden, who helped research this story, is a member of the Laurel History Boys’ Board of Directors.
December 28, 2020
The Perfect Crime With One Flaw: Her Big Mouth
The Murder of Steve Hricko
The news reports were progressively more horrific. The local paper, the Easton Star-Democrat, was the first to report the tragedy on Monday, February 16, 1998. Under the headline, “Guest dies in fire at golf resort,” the brief, three-paragraph article contained few details. “ST. MICHAELS ― Maryland State Police and the state fire marshal’s office are investigating a fatal fire at the Harbourtowne Golf Resort and Conference Center that may have begun on or near a bed in one of the guest suites early Sunday morning.”
Three days later, the same paper identified the guest who died in the fire as Stephen M. Hricko, from Laurel, and provided some early gruesome details. “Hricko was burned from the torso up but the cause of his death has not yet been determined.” According to the State Fire Marshal’s office, the fire was contained to a small area “since the room was so well insulated, the fire appeared to have smothered itself.”
According to the article, “Hricko and his wife, Kim, attended an audience participation murder mystery play at the resort last Saturday night … During the play, the bridegroom fell dead after the bride’s mother poisoned him. The fire was reported in one of the cottages several hours later, at about 1:25 a.m.”
That same day, Feb. 19, both the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun picked up the story of the tragedy, with the angle of the murder mystery play irresistible to headline writers. “Laurel Man, Wife Were on Murder-Mystery Weekend at Resort” was the headline in the Sun, while the Post’s was rather lame: “‘Whodunit’ Fan’s Death Stumps Police; Man Burned After Taking Part in Interactive Drama on Eastern Shore.”
Even though both the Sun and the Post provided more detail as to what happened, it still seemed mysterious. “Stephen Michael Hricko of Belle Ami Drive in Laurel was declared dead in his room shortly before 2 a.m. Burned from the waist up, his body was found on the floor next to the bed,” according to the Sun. “‘It was an accident,’ said Mary Esther Hricko, the victim’s mother, reached by phone. ‘Of course, no one did it. We’re all upset.’”
About three hours after the end of the play, continued the Sun, “according to hotel management, Hricko’s wife, Kimberly, 33, ran to the front desk asking someone to call 911 because of a fire in the couple’s room. Kimberly Hricko was questioned by investigators at the scene and again on Monday. She was unavailable for comment last night.”
The Post interviewed Bobbi Benitz, an actress in the murder mystery play. “It was just very strange the way it happened. It’s just so bizarre,” she said. Other details were included in the Post’s article: “A state police spokesman said Hricko’s wife … was not in the room at the time of the fire.” Deputy State Fire Marshal W. Faron Taylor “said investigators had found no evidence of” an accelerant at the scene of the fire. “Hricko, 35, was the golf course superintendent at Patuxent Greens Country Club in Laurel.”
The Laurel Leader described the events following the play. “Philip Parker, Jr., of Salisbury, another guest at the resort who had participated in the interactive play, said he, his girlfriend, and his family were leaving the resort’s bar nearly two hours after the play when Hricko’s wife ran in looking for members of the staff. She said her room was on fire and the door was locked so she couldn’t get in. According to Parker, Mrs. Hricko was ‘relatively calm’ and was fully dressed when she came looking for help.”
Parker raced to the room and looked through the sliding glass door on the patio. He could see a body on the floor between the beds. He braved the flames and smoke and crawled in to pull Steve Hricko onto the patio. As Parker described Hricko’s body, “only his shoulders, chest and head had been burned” but “you couldn’t even see the features of the head or face.”
So, what happened?
Steve and Kimberly Hricko, who had an 8-year-old daughter, were in marriage counseling to address problems in their relationship. Kim had asked Steve for a divorce but reluctantly agreed to counseling first. Mike Miller, Steve’s best friend since childhood and the golf superintendent at Harbourtowne, suggested the Valentine’s Day weekend at the resort. Steve saw the weekend getaway as a major step in repairing their marriage, which he was desperate to do. It later came out that Kim didn’t want to go on a getaway with Steve—she wanted to get away from Steve.
Kim was a hospital surgical technologist at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring. Her duties included setting up operating rooms, handling surgical instruments and assisting during operations, and, most importantly, cleaning up after operations.
Starting immediately after the fire, as soon as Kim started talking to investigators, whether in a formal interview or not, suspicions were aroused. Things didn’t add up. Once investigators started interviewing family and friends, things got worse for Kim for one simple reason: she couldn’t keep her mouth shut.
The book An Act of Murder, by investigative reporter Linda Rosencrance, is a detailed account of the case. In a phone interview, Rosencrance told me of another problem for Kim: she thought she was smarter than everybody else, including police investigators.
By interviewing police, attorneys, court officials, family, and friends, Rosencrance in her book paints a much more complete portrait of events than was reported in the media. Many descriptions of events below, except for the quotes attributed to various newspapers, are culled from the book. Passages used verbatim from An Act of Murder are in quotes or indented.
One of the first two police officers on the scene, Officer Stephen Craig from the St. Michaels Police Department, was evacuating other guests just minutes after Parker had pulled Steve’s body from the room. It was then he saw Kim for the first time.
As Parker and Craig were talking, Kimberly approached Craig. She was holding her cell phone in her left hand. She kept saying she wanted “to see the body,” although she hadn’t yet been told that Steve was dead.
Several hours later, Maryland State Police Trooper Clay Hartness and Father Paul Jennings, State Police Chaplain, informed Kim of her husband’s death. “‘Her response was not very emotional,’ Jennings testified later.” Then Trooper Hartness asked Kim what happened. It was the first time an investigator questioned her.
Kim told Hartness that after leaving the murder-mystery production, she and Steve bought some beer from the bar and returned to their room. Once in the room Steve began pressuring her for sex, she said. When she refused, Steve became “pushy” and was “groping” her. She said she continued to resist Steve’s advances and then they started arguing. She told Hartness “I didn’t want to get into it, so I got my keys and my purse, got in the car, and left.” She said she drove to Easton looking for the home of some friends, but she said she wasn’t familiar with the area and never found the house. She said she couldn’t even find Route 50 and had to get directions back to St. Michaels. Kim told Hartness that when she got back to Harbourtowne, she realized she didn’t have her electronic key card to get back into her room.
She said she remembered that she and Steve had been using the sliding glass door and thought it might still be unlocked, so she went around to the back of the complex. Kim said she pushed the door open and was confronted by thick smoke. She said she screamed, pushed back the curtain, and felt around for the light switch, but couldn’t find it. She told the trooper she ran to the other rooms and knocked on the doors, screaming for help, but no one answered. Next she drove to the main building and went into the lobby, screaming that her room was on fire. She said several people who were in the lobby quickly ran to her room. She told Hartness she tried to go back to the room, but she was stopped by “someone in a uniform.”
Her detailed story, told just a few hours after her dead husband was pulled from a fire, raised suspicions.
Fire investigator Mike Mulligan arrived on the scene with his dog trained to detect accelerants. Per his usual procedure before leading the dog to a fire scene, Mulligan put a drop of gasoline on a random spot in the parking lot. When the dog passed it, “he gave me a hit where I put the drop of accelerant.” In the Hrickos’ room, the dog detected an accelerant between the beds where Steve died. “However, because lab tests did not detect any accelerant—Mulligan said it probably evaporated—he was not able to testify at trial as to what the dog detected.”
Investigators found that the fire was contained to the bed, headboard, and the wall above the bed. A pillow exhibited a silhouette of Steve’s head formed by falling soot.
Another pillow—unburned—was found on the opposite side of the bed from where Steve was laying. A Playboy magazine opened to the centerfold was on the pillow. And under the pillow was a pack of Backwoods cigars, missing one cigar. Two nearly full beer bottles were on the nightstand.
Around 5:00 am, two Maryland State Police Troopers, who had taken over in leading the investigation, interviewed Kim, who had been sleeping in another room. In this interview, she expanded the details:
Kimberley explained that she and Steve had been having marital problems for about three months and decided to attend the Valentine’s weekend hoping to revive their marriage. According to Kim, Steve got “sloppy drunk” during the evening, drinking all but one glass from the complimentary bottle of champagne that was left in their room, as well as drinking wine at dinner, more champagne, and beer. And, after the dinner show, the couple purchased more beer to drink back at their room. Kim told the officers that Steve was taking several types of prescription medicine for his depression, including Xanax. She said he was also taking the over-the-counter liquid cold medicine Theraflu. According to Kim, Steve took the Xanax and Theraflu around 7:00 p.m., just before they went to dinner. Kim also told the officers that her husband regularly chewed tobacco and always smoked cigars when he drank. However, she said she didn’t think Steve bought or brought any cigarettes or cigars with him to Harbourtowne. She said she didn’t, either.
Kim said when she and Steve got back to their room they watched the movie Tommy Boy and then started watching the 11:00 p.m. news when Steve began “pawing” her. Kim said she was surprised because she and Steve had agreed there would be no sex during the weekend. She also said she was surprised at her husband’s advances because when he wanted sex he usually turned to pornography, not her. She said she left the room because of the fight over Steve’s drunken behavior, adding that it wasn’t a physical fight. Kim explained that Steve had never been physically abusive toward her.
The officers were surprised “that she exhibited little reaction” and that she “offered very detailed information to police—information that they had not asked for, and that was very unexpected.”
Kim’s story began to fall apart as soon as investigators talked to friends and witnesses. Steve’s best friend Mike Miller told police that Steve didn’t smoke and that “there was no way he would have been drinking heavily that weekend.”
Investigators questioned Henry Dove, Maryland Assistant State’s Attorney, who happened to be sitting at the Hricko’s table during dinner. Dove told police, “I couldn’t even swear he had one beer, but maybe he did, but he certainly wasn’t drinking heavily.”
By Monday evening, two days after the fire, two friends had called police and said Kim “might have killed her husband by injecting him with a drug that would paralyze his muscles, preventing him from moving and leaving him helpless.” They also put police in contact with a third friend who could corroborate the story. How did they know this? Kim told them her plan.
Jenny Gowen and Norma Walz worked at Holy Cross with Kim and were close friends, even though Norma had since moved to Washington State. Norma and Kim were bridesmaids in Jenny’s wedding in November 1997. During the wedding festivities, Kim met Jenny’s cousin, Brad Winkler, who was in the military. Unknown to her friends, Kim started an affair with Winkler.
A few weeks after the wedding, Kim disclosed the affair to her friends, upsetting Jenny. Tellingly, “Kim was furious with Jenny for not supporting her. Kim felt Jenny was only worried about how the affair would affect her and her marriage … She didn’t seem to care about what Kim wanted.”
Jenny and Norma had a phone conversation just before learning about Steve’s death.
During their conversation, Jenny shared something with Norma that made her skin crawl.
“Jenny said Kim was feeling like she would never be able to divorce Steve and it would be easier if he were dead.”
Later, in a conversation about insurance, Kim told Norma that she had taken out a $250,000 smoker’s term life insurance policy on Steve, even though he didn’t smoke.
Rachel McCoy was another very close friend of Kim’s dating back to their days in high school. After speaking to Rachel on the phone the day Kim returned to her home in Laurel after Steve’s death, she relayed the conversation to another friend, Maureen Miller, Mike’s wife, who was also a friend of Kim’s since college.
She was visibly pissed off.
“She thinks I killed Steve,” Kim said to Maureen.
“What would give her that crazy idea?” Maureen asked.
“Because we were out in a bar one night and I was drunk and I was mad at Steve about a fight we had and I said I wanted to kill him,” Kim said.
The conversation with McCoy that Kim mentioned took place just two weeks before the Harbourtowne weekend.
“She said she either had a drug or could get a drug at work that she would inject in Steve that would cause his muscles to become paralyzed and stop him from beathing,” Rachel said. “Kim said the drug couldn’t be traced.”
To make it look like an accident, Kim said, she would light a cigar or candles and set the curtains in the house on fire and burn the house down with Steve in it. That way it would appear that he died as a result of the fire and smoke. Kim told Rachel that her life would be so much easier.
Kim had also confided in a Laurel neighbor, Teri Armstrong, “that she had been thinking about several different ways of killing Steve, basically for the insurance money” to support her and her daughter.
But the most damaging information about Kim came from a co-worker at Holy Cross Hospital, Ken Burgess, who told investigators about a conversation he had with Kim about a year earlier at the hospital.
I had my back to her and she made a statement about wanting to have her husband killed and would I do it, or would I know somebody that would kill her husband.
Thinking Kim was joking, Burgess turned around to look at her and made an off-the-cuff comment.
“Why would you want to kill your husband?” Burgess asked. “You work in the operating room, why don’t you just give him some curare and put him to sleep.” I was kind of joking. When I turned around and I looked at her, I could tell she wasn’t joking. She just said she had to get it done.
As the forensic investigation continued, the investigators’ suspicions proved correct. The Medical Examiner reported to police that “the autopsy indicated that there was no carbon dioxide in Stephen Hricko’s blood, nor was there evidence of soot or burns in his trachea or related injuries to his lungs. That meant that Steve was either not breathing, or dead, before the fire in his room started.” The ME also reported that “there was no alcohol in his blood.”
When Kim’s conversation with Burgess became known, the ME suspected that Steve was injected with succinylcholine, which is used as a muscle relaxant during surgery and to assist with intubation of a surgical patient. According to Rosencrance, “when injected into the body, it would take between four and six seconds to paralyze a person’s skeletal muscles and for the person to stop breathing and then die.” Amazingly, succinylcholine is considered a noncontrolled substance (since abuse results in death) so it is not subject to controls like other drugs used in operating rooms. Surgical technicians, like Kim, have access to the drug when cleaning the operating room. Unfortunately, in 1998 there was no forensic test to detect succinylcholine, because of the speed with which the body metabolizes the drug.
Investigators found other problems with Kim’s story. None of the guests in the adjoining rooms heard anyone banging on doors or yelling “Fire!” until around 1:30, when the resort management did it.
The pack of cigars on the bed was another clue. Police checked out 25 liquor and convenience stores in Laurel. They hit the jackpot when they visited Astor Home Liquors in the Laurel Shopping Center (not far from the Hricko home on Belle Ami Drive in Laurelton, next to Laurel High School). Not only did the State Police lab confirm the price sticker on the pack in the burned bed was the same as those on the shelf at Astor Home, but the cashier picked out Kim’s photo as the woman who bought the cigars.
Fire investigators attempted to replicate starting the fire using the same cigars and the same bedding from Harbourtowne. Despite multiple attempts, they were not able to start a fire at all with those items.
On Feb. 23, Maryland State Police investigators Sergeant Karen Alt and Corporal Keith Elzey confronted Kim with some of their findings.
Sergeant Alt asked Kimberly if she was having an affair. She said she wasn’t. Alt then asked her if she knew a U.S. Marine named Brad Winkler. Kim appeared shocked, but she didn’t say a word. Alt and Elzey told her they knew about her affair with Winkler. Kim bowed her head, then looked up and acknowledged the affair.
Elzey asked Kim to tell him again how much alcohol Steve drank the night before he died. Kim said he was drinking heavily. Elzey then confronted her with the results of the medical examiner’s toxicology report, which indicated Steve had a blood alcohol level of 0.00.
Kim appeared stunned and said it didn’t make sense.
Next Elzey confronted Kimberley with the medical examiner’s report indicating there was no carbon monoxide or soot found in Steve’s body.
Again Kim appeared stunned.
“I don’t understand,” she repeated.
Kim lowered her head and then looked up.
“How can that be?” she asked, crying.
“Please tell me the whole truth about what happened that night,” Elzey said.
Kim bent over, put her head in her hands, and continued crying. Still crying, she got up, sat in another chair, and put her face in her hands.
“If I tell you what happened, can I go home tonight and see my daughter?” she asked.
Kim abruptly changed her mind and asked for a lawyer. Police allowed Kim to stay in Easton with Mike Miller and his wife.
That evening, police served a warrant at the Millers’ house to search Kim’s car. While the search was underway, Kim was upstairs, ostensibly taking a bath. When Maureen Miller went in to check on her, “She’s talking and she’s slurring her words. And I knew she had taken something,” said Miller. She found “an empty bottle of pills that had Xanax written on it.”
While the police were executing the search warrant, Kim was taken away in an ambulance. But all was not as it seemed.
“Apparently Kim staged it to make it look like she was going to get in the bathtub, slit her wrists, and kill herself, because it turned that the medication she had actually taken was not Xanax, according to the toxicology report,” Maureen said. “Kim put something else in the Xanax bottle and that’s what she took.”
The nurse at the hospital told Maureen that Kim would be fine. In fact, the nurse said that Kim would have been worse off taking a bottle of aspirin.
In a search of their home in the Laurelton neighborhood conducted at the same time police were searching Kim’s car in Easton, Steve’s journal was found.
Steve’s writings painted a picture of a man desperate to do whatever it took to make his marriage work—a man worried about his wife’s feelings, even as she was seeing another man and planning his murder.
“I feel she doesn’t understand how deeply I love her—I mean real love. I am afraid I won’t get the chance to make the marriage right,” Steven said, adding that all his fears stemmed from his depression.
Two days later, Kim was arrested. She was denied bail and placed on a suicide watch.
Kim Hricko’s trial began 11 months after the fire. Prosecutors lost some key pre-trial motions before Talbot County Circuit Judge William S. Horne. Two syringes—one found on the golf course and the other in the Hricko’s home—were ruled inadmissible. Kim’s lawyer successfully “argued that the needle was not relevant because an autopsy of Stephen Hricko did not reveal any needle marks,” according to the Star-Democrat. The fact that he was burned beyond recognition apparently didn’t matter.
Also ruled out was any mention of Kim’s so-called attempted suicide at the Millers’ home. And fire investigator Mike Mulligan’s testimony was limited by the judge. He did testify about his failed attempts to replicate the fire but was barred from mentioning the results from the dog.
In his opening statement, Special Assistant State’s Attorney Robert Dean summarized Kim’s actions, as reported in the Star-Democrat: “Her husband was poisoned by a drug that paralyzes, then burned beyond recognition. Exactly what the defendant wanted, exactly what she planned. To say it was cruel and sinister would be kind.”
Defense attorney Harry Trainor countered in his opening statement that “loose talk and inappropriate conduct before the incident on the part of Kimberly Hricko was suspicious, but nothing more,” according to the Leader.
But the headway made by the defense in the pre-trial motions was no match for the testimony from friends and co-workers. One by one, Jenny Gowen, Ken Burges, Norma Walz, Rachel McCoy, Teresa Armstrong, and Maureen Miller all testified that Kim talked about killing Steve.
Kim did not take the stand.
After a five-day trial, the jury deliberated for three hours and found Kim guilty of first-degree murder and arson. According to the Sun, “Defense attorney William Brennan Jr. said his legal team was unable to overcome testimony from former friends of Kimberly Hricko. ‘It was clearly not based on the medical or scientific evidence,’ Brennan said. ‘It was her near and dear friends who testified that made all the difference.’”
“‘The defendant nearly committed the perfect crime,’ [prosecutor] Dean said. ‘But her tormented and brave friends knew what was going on and what they had to do.’”
At her sentencing in March 1999, Judge Horne called Kim “a very dangerous person” and sentenced her to life in prison for murder and 30 years for arson, with the sentences to be served concurrently. In its coverage, the Sun noted that Kim “has never admitted guilt in the death” of her husband.
In September 2000, a three-judge panel in the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland upheld Kim Hricko’s conviction. The court’s opinion, written by Judge Charles E. Moylan, Jr., contained an entertaining comparison of the Hricko case to the play-within-a-play of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Moylan, noting that the murder mystery play at Harbourtowne that Valentine’s Day was titled “The Bride Who Cried,” said the Hricko case “may well be called ‘The Widow Who Lied’.”
Sprinkled throughout the opinion in between summaries of testimony and the investigation, Moylan printed quotes from Shakespeare. Some examples:
“Why, I can smile,
And murder while I smile”
…Henry VI, Part Three
Act III, Scene ii
“O murderous slumber!”
Act IV, Scene iii
“O true apothecary!
Thy drugs are quick”
…Romeo and Juliet
Act V, Scene iii
Numerous times Moylan’s opinion mentioned Kim’s inability to keep her mouth shut:
“A number of Kimberly’s close friends were also fully apprised of growing discord.”
“Again incautiously, she could not contain the fact that she ‘was having an affair with Brad’ …”
“Without warning, she blurted out that she wanted him to kill her husband.”
“So did Kimberly’s apparent compulsion to share her budding mens rea with anyone who would listen.”
Judge Moylan provided a point-by-point rebuttal to the defense’s explanations about what happened. He didn’t buy any of it. “Did Kimberly’s attempted explanation become part of the proof of her guilt? It most assuredly did.”
Her lies piled up to the point that Judge Moylan stated, “In instance after instance, Kimberly’s attempted explanations simply generated greater and greater disbelief.”
His opinion ended with: “We hereby affirm the convictions for a crime that can only be described as ‘twas once described by the ghost of Old King Hamlet:
“Murder most foul,
But this, most foul, strange, and unnatural.”
The case spawned a slew of low-budget cable TV documentaries, true crime stories, blogs, and podcasts, most of which leave a lot to be desired as far as getting the facts straight. None come close to Rosencrance’s book for accuracy and completeness.
From prison, Kim has written essays about prison life, whining about privileges. In one published in the Washington Post in August 2016, she complained about rules changes that no longer allowed her to hold her granddaughter during a visit from her daughter. She wrote: “I understand that most people have little sympathy for prisoners. We committed crimes. We have been convicted and are receiving the punishment we deserve. But we are still women. We are still mothers. Let us hold our children and grandchildren. They have committed no crime.”
And in July 2016, her article on Vice.com complained about the rules concerning mail—what’s allowed and what’s not. Her snarky comments—following a reasonable explanation for the rules—were meant to be sarcastic but, considering her circumstances and history, are hard to accept.
In the article she complained that prison censors cut a ribbon bookmark out of a Bible someone sent her (“There’ll be no six-inch pieces of fabric running amok on this compound!” she wrote) and did not allow her to receive a copy of Games of Thrones because, as she wrote, “it contained maps. Maps are contraband. I guess I won’t be escaping to Westeros!”
Neither of her essays acknowledges that Steve can’t hold his granddaughter or read Games of Thrones, either, because Kim killed him and burned him beyond recognition so she could run off with her new boyfriend.
In my interview with her, Rosencrance added a pathetic ending to the story. Reflecting on Kim’s motive—to get away from Steve and live happily ever after with Brad Winkler—Rosencrance noted that after she was arrested, “Brad wanted nothing to do with her.”
Kim’s cause has been taken up by her roommate from college, Esther Goetz, who describes herself as “a wife, mom, daughter, women’s group leader, sister, marriage mentor, friend, speaker, and lover of Jesus” on her blog “The Dolly Mama.” Her blog is about, coincidentally, redemption. Goetz had lost contact with Kim for many years, but she reconnected about three years ago and stays in touch with Kim.
I interviewed Esther over the phone because she writes that Kim “admitted that she did” kill Steven. She pointed me to one of her blog posts that contains a letter she received from Kim in prison, in which Kim described working with a “psychological expert” who “helped me speak out loud not only what I did the night of my crime, but how I got to the point where I believed that killing my husband was the only answer.”
I have written to Kim at the Maryland Correctional Institution at Jessup requesting an interview and offering her the chance to tell her story. If she consents to be interviewed, I’ll file a follow-up story here in “The Laurel Chronicles.”
November 5, 2020
Many of the ingredients of the turbulent 1960s—political infighting, student protests, community uproar, academic chaos—were present in Laurel in 1913. The only principal Laurel High School ever had since opening in 1899, Professor Roger I. Manning, was notified in June 1913 by the Prince George’s County School Board that “his services will not be needed for the next scholastic year,” according to the Laurel Leader. The reason for his dismissal was never made clear.
The brand-new Laurel High School opened in the Fall of 1899 “against determined opposition in the lower part of the county” with locating the first high school in Prince George’s County in Laurel, according to the Baltimore Sun. The initial school year employed two teachers (one male, one female) overseeing 61 students, as listed in the 1900 Annual Report of the Commission of Education, U.S. Department of the Interior. The Sun gushed that the school was a modern building “supplied with electric lights” and contained five classrooms, an assembly room on the second floor, and “two large playrooms in the basement,” presumably for PE classes.
Manning’s 14 years as principal saw slow growth at the school. His annual salary started at $800 in 1899 and his assistant, Miss Eliza G. Cronmiller, was paid $600. The first class of 1900 had five graduates, all women. By 1913, he was paid $1,200 and ten students graduated in the class of 1913, eight women and two men.
The news that Manning was appealing his dismissal to the State Board of Education produced an uproar in the community, as reported in the Leader. The Sun took a more professional, distanced approach in its reporting. “Mr. Manning contends the county board had no authority to dismiss him,” reported the Sun. In contrast, the Leader editorialized, “why he should persist in trying to fasten himself upon the people here is more than we can understand.”
Speculation ran rampant in town as to a replacement. Sometimes the Leader listed the men (all men, of course) who submitted applications. How they knew this is a mystery. But the Leader was unimpressed in the quality of the applicants, saying that no one “would even think of some of the persons we have heard mentioned in this connection, and we hope for the sake of the school that nothing ridiculous will be sprung upon our people.”
Trying to move past the controversy, the PG County School Board hired Professor Kirtley J. Morris in July to replace Manning, beginning with the Fall 1913 semester. Morris was formerly the Superintendent of Schools in Covington, Kentucky.
The hiring of Morris was celebrated in the Leader, which was still unclear why Manning was fired. “Whether it be a fact or not, the people have long felt that the High School here was not what it should be, and many persons gave as a reason for not sending their children to the school, that it was not up to the standard, and rather than have their children attend a school which was not all they had a right to expect in it, they sent them to schools elsewhere.” (Sure, that explains it.)
But just a month after hiring Morris, the brief calm was shattered, and the uproar reignited in town. “Manning Wins Appeal” was the headline in the Leader. “The State Board of Education, with Governor Goldsborough presiding, overruled the action of the [PG] Board of School Commissioners for this county in removing Roger I. Manning.” The articled nudged closer to the reasons for the firing. “Several allegations tending to show that Mr. Manning was inefficient to hold the position were made by the [PG] School Commissioners and County Superintendent Sasscer, but only one of the grounds was held to be sufficient to support the action taken against Mr. Manning. This was the charge of poor administrative and executive ability, causing a lack of harmony with the teachers.”
The result was that Manning was ordered reinstated, which led to another scathing rebuke in the Leader: “This decision means that Mr. Manning will return to our High School, unless charges are filed against him and sustained by the [PG] County School Commissioners, or unless Mr. Manning realizes, as he should, that the people of Laurel—while having nothing against him as a man—do not want him as a principal and he voluntarily resigns, which would be a rather happy solution for all parties concerned.”
The fight was far from over. Taking a page from Manning’s appeal—although in reverse—the PG County School Board declared that the State Board of Education had no authority over their decision and ordered vice principal Miss Margaret Edmondson to take charge when Laurel High School opened in September 1913. Prof. Morris, who was hired as Manning’s replacement, and who by now had to wonder why he left Kentucky in the first place, was assigned as a teacher at Laurel. Both moves with Edmondson and Morris were intended to be temporary until things were sorted out.
Not willing to wait for the county and the state to settle their spat, Manning’s attorney, Ogle Marbury, filed suit in the Maryland Circuit Court in October 1913 for a writ of injunction against PG County “to restrain them from interfering with Mr. Manning’s taking charge of the school,” reported the Leader. The paper’s viewpoint, in case they had been too subtle, was reinforced: “No matter what the decision may be, the people had decided there has been ‘too much Manning.’”
Once again, things calmed down for a while. The Sun reported that at some point during the school year, Morris had taken over from Edmondson as Acting Principal. But, once again, the calm was shattered with an announcement and tongues around town where wagging again.
In mid-March 1914, with only a few months left in the school year, the Court of Appeals of Maryland decided that Manning was “improperly dismissed by the [PG] County School Commissioners, and it is up to the said Board to re-instate Mr. Manning, which means that he will receive salary for the whole year.” That meant the county had to pay two principals for the entire school year, Manning and Morris. The Sun’s coverage also (correctly) predicted trouble ahead: “Since Mr. Morris took charge, however, the new head of the school has become extremely popular with the students and teachers, and these, it is said, have planned to walk out when Principal Manning returns.” The Leader, however, took more of a doomsday attitude toward a rumored walkout by students: “That sort of thing will not do—not even in Laurel—for it logically leads to anarchy.” (Not even in Laurel?)
On March 31, in accordance with the decision by the Court of Appeals, Manning returned as principal at Laurel High School. It was not a joyful return. Manning arrived very early and avoided any confrontations outside. A crowd of about 100, including many pupils, assembled in front of the school. “As the teachers entered the school grounds they were cheered by the striking pupils, while the children who entered the school were hissed,” according to the Sun. As rumored, when classes began that morning, fully half the approximately 100-member student body was absent. “A number of parents have declared that they will keep their children away for the remainder of the school term rather than let them go back under Mr. Manning.”
There were no reports about the next few weeks and whether or not some parents relented and returned their children to school, but three weeks after the walkout, the PG County School Board once again took matters into their own hands. The Board ignored the Court of Appeals and ordered “that notice be given to Roger I. Manning, principal of the Laurel High School that his services as teacher of the said school and as principal will not be required after the 18th day of May, 1914.” (Isn’t this how the whole thing started?)
The State Board of Education was not about to let this second attempt to subvert their authority go unpunished. Immediately after passing an order condemning the “insubordination on the part of the pupils of the Laurel High School towards the legally constituted authorities” for the walkout, they called on the big guns of the Governor. “Unless the School Commissioners of Prince George’s County revoke their order dismissing Prof. Roger I. Manning, principal of the high school, it is understood that Governor Goldsborough will prefer charges against them and attempt to have them removed from office.” Even though nobody wanted Manning to stay, the State Board was saying WE can fire him, but you can’t.
PG County revoked their order and Manning finished the school year as principal, whereupon he promptly resigned. In August, the Washington Star reported that Herbert F. Mitchell had been hired as Laurel High School’s new principal for the 1914-15 school year. He came to Laurel from the Public Health Bureau in Philadelphia, where he was a statistician accountant.
What happened to the beleaguered Professor Morris, Manning’s supposed replacement? His consolation prize was being appointed the principal at the new Hyattsville High School. It’s a fair assumption he didn’t mind the transfer.
So what was all this really about? If Manning was “inefficient” or showed “poor administrative and executive ability,” why did it take 14 years as principal for these allegations to surface? If there were other reasons, they are lost to time. And in the chaos caused by the ridiculous back-and-forth posturing between the State and County School Boards, the needs of the students and their lost school year was never mentioned. The story shows that the combination of political infighting, student protests, community uproar, and academic chaos were not unique to the 1960s.
October 1, 2020
History Crumbs, Vol 1.
These short bits of history tend to pile up as I do more research on various topics. Unless otherwise credited, all quotes are from the Laurel Leader.
In May, the new city of Laurel imposed its first fines on citizens. Both fines were $2. R.F. Redmiles was charged with breach of the peace and Henry Marshall permitted his hogs to run at large.
In January, the Leader published “Her Ten Commandments.”
These are the new commandments ten,
Which wives now make for married men:
1. Remember that I am thy wife,
Whom thou must cherish all my life.
2. Thou shalt not stay out late at night,
When lodges, friends, or clubs invite.
3. Thou shalt not smoke indoors or out,
Or chew tobacco round about.
4. Thou shall with praise receive my pies,
Nor pastry made by me despise.
5. My mother thou shall strive to please,
And let her live with us in ease.
6. Remember tis thy duty clear,
To dress me well throughout the year.
7. Thou shalt in manner mild and meek,
Give me thy wages every week.
8. Thou shalt not be a drinking man,
But live on prohibition plan.
9. Thou shalt not flirt, but must allow
Thy wife such freedom, any how.
10. Thou shalt get up when baby cries,
And try thy child to tranquilize.
These my commandments, from day to day,
Implicitly thou shalt obey.
The first high school in Prince George’s County, the old Laurel High School on Montgomery Street, held its first commencement. The five graduates were all women: Laura Bentley, Annie Carroll, Emma Flester, Anna Hill, and Eve Phelps.
In June, an advice column that briefly ran in the Leader published this touching exchange:
Dear Sir, Will you please inform me, through the column of your paper, how a young lady can get rid of a persistent and tiresome caller without openly telling him so. (Signed) M.G.E.
Answer—You are in a bad fix, the only suggestions that we could offer are the following—First, plead other engagements. Next is to act natural, so horribly natural that anybody but a born idiot would take the hint. That failing, try palming him off on your family. Then give away his flowers and insist upon your small brother gobbling up his chocolate creams under his very nose. Next, abuse him. Then make appointments with him and take pains not to keep them. Give his dances to someone else. Shut yourself up in your room and refuse to see him and the desired result is generally accomplished, even where all other methods have failed. If he still comes, you can either ask your father to hit him on the head with an ax or you can ask him why he doesn’t get married, so he will have some place to spend his evenings. Then he will either propose or quit. If he proposes, you can refuse him, and he is sure to come no more—at least for a while.
In May, “the first military funeral in this neighborhood” was held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church for “the first of our boys in this vicinity to die in the line of duty.” The deceased was Vincent Beall of Jessup, who was burned to death at Fort Omaha when an observation balloon exploded and set a building on fire. “Arrangements were made to inter the remains at Laurel in order to give him a military funeral, which was easier, owing to the proximity of Camp Laurel.”
The Leader published this ad:
In November, the Leader editorialized,
“Where do we go tonight?” remarks the modern sophisticated girl when the young man comes around to call. The good old days when the girls entertained the boys by sitting in the parlor and turning over the family photograph album or playing duets on the piano are no more.
That was a good cheap way of paying attention, but the modern young woman demands that the young man spend something more than the evening. Which is hard on impecunious youth.
And the expense of showing attention to the girls, particularly in cities of considerable size, constantly increases. Formerly it was considered enough to take a girl to some show, but now she often expects that her hungry voids shall be filled by a late supper afterwards. But if the boys did not spend the money on these girls, they might spend it on themselves in ways not preferable.
In November, the Laurel Elementary School PTA sponsored a play titled “Aunt Lucia” that featured a cast of 150 local residents. The play, described as “a burlesque comedy of American college life,” featured numerous prominent Laurel businessmen in roles as women. The Leader claimed the play “has numerous hilarious comedy spots.”
In October, the Leader published a Navy recruitment cartoon featuring Popeye:
In August, Laurel resident Harry R. Hubbard, 48, was sentenced to four years in a Federal penitentiary for posing as an Army officer, falsely wearing Army insignia and medals, and obtaining money by false pretenses. Hubbard, who had been a sergeant in the Army during World War I, posed as an Army colonel and fooled the whole town. When returning to Laurel from his day job as a carpenter on War Department projects, he would slip in his back door and then walk through town in an Army colonel uniform. In court, prosecutors told his story. After the bombing at Pearl Harbor, Hubbard disappeared for a few weeks and, upon returning to Laurel, told people he had been sent to Hawaii to investigate. Hubbard’s pretense so completely fooled the town that Laurel Police Chief Edward Brown had a police siren installed on his car, which, somehow, sported Army license plates. Laurel Dr. Edwin Bernstein gave Hubbard $45 while he posed as a colonel. Future Mayor Harry Hardingham, then the owner of a gas station in Laurel, told the court “He seemed like a regular army man. He never bragged about what he had done, though he always had a ready answer to questions.” His story aroused suspicion when he claimed he was flying Army bombers to and from Fort Meade. After his sentencing, Hubbard told the court he “always wanted to be somebody.”
In June, the St. Louis Cardinals conducted a two-day tryout camp in Laurel. “All those who plan on taking advantage of this splendid opportunity to see if they are qualified for professional baseball are reminded to bring their own gloves, uniform and shoes.”
In April, Laurel Police received complaints about a resident who was “practicing hypnotism on children.” Police urged parents “to caution their children against allowing this man to hypnotize them.”
In February, Master Sergeant Earl W. Sherman, who lived on Main Street in Laurel, was declared dead by the Defense Department after being missing in action in Korea since July 1950. Sherman had also been reported as missing in action during World War II when he was captured and held by the Germans for nine months. Between the wars, he was stationed at Fort Meade.
In August, the Laurel Junior-Senior Teen Club held a “Beachcomber” party, consisting of a dance at Laurel High School and then a swim party at the Laurel pool. Teens were encouraged to “dress as you would imagine one would look after living on a desert island.”
In February, divers working in 30 feet of icy water in the Rocky Gorge Reservoir found the lost boundary markers between Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. Observing the operation was President Merl Myers and Vice President Thomas Burton, Jr., from the Patuxent Old Line Organization. “This is the organization which was formed several years ago by residents of the Brooklyn Bridge Road area when they were threatened with being shifted from Prince George’s County to Montgomery County.” The 8-foot stone boundary marker disappeared in 1954 when the area was flooded to form the Rocky Gorge Reservoir. The discovery of the marker meant that the existing boundary lines were correct.
In August, the Mayor’s Civic Center Committee presented their recommendations to the City Council. Mayor Merrill Harrison appointed members to the committee five months earlier to explore the feasibility of building a municipal civic center in Laurel. The committee recommended that the 18-acre site where the Avondale Mill was located be used to build such a facility, which would allow the municipal offices to move from Montgomery Street, with the remainder of the proposed civic center to house a convention hall with multiple meeting rooms and kitchens. There was no mention in the News Leader if the Avondale Mill was to be torn down or left as is. Obviously, the plans never came to fruition.
In August, a mother of four children was arrested by Laurel Police at her townhouse in Milestone Manor for interfering with the duties of a police officer. When police arrived to arrest her husband on a morals charge for “carnal knowledge with a juvenile girl who resided in the development,” he jumped from the second floor balcony and ran up the creek next to the railroad tracks. To give her husband time to escape, the wife started fighting with police at the front door while he escaped from the balcony. Laurel Police “then took his wife, who they said was biting, screaming, and scratching, into custody.”
In February, Laurel native and Marine Sgt. Karl Taylor was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Richard Nixon. In Vietnam, Taylor charged an enemy machine gun bunker with a grenade launcher to allow his rifle company to rescue wounded Marines. He took out the machine gun before being killed by enemy fire. He was the second Laurel resident to win the Medal of Honor, after Capt. George Albee in 1894.
A proposal to construct a sports complex to house both the Baltimore Orioles and Colts, in Howard County north of Laurel, was unveiled in 1979. Megaplex, the development company, claimed to have a contract on 500 acres between Route 1 and I-95, and Route 175 and Meadowridge Road. Jumping into the fray, Prince Georges County Executive Larry Hogan, in a letter to Edward Bennett Williams, the new owner of the Orioles, then suggested building a “superdome” in the Laurel area, just off I-95, for the Orioles. Neither idea ever panned out.
In August, pilot Gary Hankins crashed his home-built experimental ultralight plane into the roof of a house off Brock Bridge Road in Maryland City. Hankins had just taken off from Suburban Airport and was heading north when residents of the Parkway Mobile Home Park told the News Leader they “heard it sputtering” just before the crash. After firefighters secured the plane and the roof, they rescued the semi-conscious pilot from the wreckage.
In June, professional soccer player Mia Hamm made an appearance at the Supplee Lane soccer fields at a camp sponsored by her Washington Freedom team.
1919 Mass Murder in Laurel
I’m often asked where the ideas for these columns come from, and the answer is everywhere. Many times as I research one story, other stories pop up and lead to columns. But some of the most memorable columns originated from people contacting me. This story has three significant examples of that.
Significant Contact #1: I received an e-mail from Lindsey Baker, the Executive Director of the Laurel Historical Society, asking if I was interested in talking to a woman from Oregon who visited the Laurel Museum looking for information about a murder in Laurel back in 1919. Her great-grandmother was one of the people murdered. This was right up my alley. Of course I was interested.
Significant Contact #2: So Lindsey put me in touch with Kathy Baldwin, who had since returned home to Oregon. That started about a six-month collaboration between us. Kathy was determined to see this story told, and she interviewed many family members from across the country. Eventually she wrote a family history to provide me with all the details from these interviews. She also sent some great family photos.
I did my own research and found much information to fill in the blanks from Kathy’s input. As I pondered how to write the story, Significant Contact #3 happened. My fellow Laurel History Boy, Richard Friend, told me that he was e-mailed some photos that appeared to be crime scene photos from this story. I assumed that Kathy had inadvertently sent them to Rich instead of me, but no matter. I was excited that we had them.
But as we investigated, it turned out that the photos of the bodies of Alice Allen and Annie Sloates were sent by someone with absolutely no connection to the story or the Allen family. I’m researching a 100-year-old murder and these photos appeared out of the blue!
It turned out that West Laurel resident Holly Maxwell was cleaning out her late mother’s possessions and came across the photos. A friend of hers recommended she contact The Laurel History Boys about them. The timing of this was bizarre.
We had Holly meet up with Melanie McKnight, an Allen family descendant and a local Remax realtor, for lunch at the diner. It was a fascinating chat, but we’re still not sure how Holly’s mother came into possession of the photos—but I’m very thankful they surfaced when they did. The photos are included below.
Here is the link to the story in the Laurel Leader. Come back when you’re finished reading!
History of the Laurel Theater
Like everyone else who grew up in Laurel during the 1960s and 70s, I spent a lot of time at the Laurel Theater on Main Street. Those were the days when we would sit through two showings and hope the usher didn’t kick us out (which they never did). For me, the theater took on a personal note when the Petrucci family bought the theater and turned it into a dinner theater (Jo Petrucci is my sister-in-law.)
But, as I found out, the history of the building revealed that the theater had been one of the town’s most important landmarks to the citizens of Laurel for decades.
I interviewed some very helpful people, including Robert Headley, who wrote a book titled Motion Picture Exhibition in Washington, D.C. His book was invaluable in researching the original Red Wing Theater as well as the Laurel Theater. It turns out that Driver is a retired professor from the University of Maryland and still lives in the area. He graciously invited Rich and I to his house and talked for an entire afternoon with us.
An unexpected source was George Prior, a classmate of mine at Laurel High School (Class of 1972). Even though I’d known George very well for a long time, I never knew his father managed the theater for years. I met up with George and Mark O’Dell, another LHS alumnus who worked for George’s father while he was in high school, and listened to their stories.
I talked to Thom Jarrell, who worked for years for the Petrucci family in a variety of jobs. Thom had lots of stories about the building, including the story of the ghost he saw. And, of course, my sister-in-law Jo provided a wealth of information and photos about the building.
As I was finishing my research for the story, the Laurel History Boys were contacted by Blaine Sutton, from SORTO Contracting Company. SORTO had been awarded the contract to demolish the building and Blaine wondered if we would be interested in checking it out one last time. Would we? As we picked our way through the debris littering the interior of the dilapidated theater, it was both fascinating and sad. Through my research I had acquired an appreciation for what the theater had meant to the town during its heyday, but on that last inspection all we saw was a building falling apart at the seams. The saddest sight of all was the old movie screen hanging in tatters. How many movies were projected onto that screen, starting with silent movies in the 1920s?
Here are the links to the story in the Laurel Leader. Come back when you’re finished reading!
Summer of Love Music Festivals: Woodstock, Altamont, and Laurel?
In July 1969, Laurel hosted a two-day pop festival at the race course, attended by 15,000 fans, that offered an incredible lineup of some of the biggest pop performers of the year, and ended in controversy. Three of the acts went on to play Woodstock the next month, and a fourth was scheduled, but they broke up right after the Laurel Pop Festival. In fact, seven performers or groups who played at Laurel are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and two have received the Kennedy Center Honors.
The second night of the festival started late because of rain and as the night wore on, the soaked fans built a bonfire out of some wooden folding chairs to ward off the cold. The media reported that a “riot” closed down the festival and future plans to continue in Laurel were scrapped.
These two were very early arrivals. The race track is in the background. These are the wooden chairs that were burned.
Local media, especially the Baltimore Sun, ran numerous articles reporting on the progress of the festival. Source: Baltimore Sun and Laurel News Leader.
The first night was kicked off by blues guitarist Buddy Guy, a Hall of Fame and Kennedy Center Honoree.
He was followed by the gospel group the Edwin Hawkins Singers, who were enjoying huge success with their single “Oh, Happy Day.”
The next act was Al Kooper, the ex-lead singer of Blood, Sweat & Tears.
Jethro Tull, whose first album “Stand Up,” released a few months earlier, was the number 1 album in the UK, was next.
They were followed by Johnny Winter, who would also perform the next month at Woodstock.
Finishing the first night’s set was the headliner, Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin was in the midst of their first world-wide tour, and had been the opening act for The Who a month earlier at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Led Zeppelin, a Hall of Fame group, was also a Kennedy Center Honoree.
Led Zeppelin’s official web site has a page devoted to their performance at the Laurel Pop Festival.
The power cut off Led Zeppelin in mid-song but Robert Plant kept singing until the power was restored.
Fans on the second night had to wait out a rain delay. At 10:00 p.m., the Jeff Beck Group, with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood, took the stage. The Jeff Beck Group was on their fifth U.S. tour and scheduled to play at Woodstock, but the band broke up shortly after their performance at Laurel and cancelled. The Jeff Beck Group, Stewart, and Wood are all in the Hall of Fame.
The next act was Ten Years After, another Woodstock performer.
They were followed by The Guess Who, riding a huge popularity wave with their #1 single, “These Eyes.”
Next up was the Mothers of Invention with Frank Zappa, another Hall of Famer. The Washington Post’s review of the festival said “Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention kept their freak show to a minimum (which is still hilarious) and concentrated on music-making that combines great rock, classical influences, jazz brass, and 12-tone dynamics into beautiful sound.”
Sly and the Family Stone, another Hall of Fame group and Woodstock performer, took the stage and brought the house down. They started their set at 2 a.m. and had people up dancing. But things went downhill as Sly’s performance continued. The bonfires were started on the infield, and promoters issued several warnings to the crowd, to no avail.
Because of the commotion on the infield and the rain delay, the Savoy Brown Band did not perform.
Bruce Remer, who hosts the web site BR’s Classic Rock Photos was a high school student attending the Laurel Pop Festival. There are stories on his web site from attendees describing how they wandered backstage, with no security in sight, and mingled with the performers. Remer and his friend Tom Beech snapped away with Kodak Instamatics backstage.
Here is the link to the story in the Laurel Leader. Come back when you’re finished reading!
Laurel’s Forgotten Role in the Bonus Army
I spend a lot of time doing historical research for clients at the National Archives. Sometimes I use students as research assistants, including my sons. That was the situation early in 2014, when my son Jeff was helping me with a project that had no connection to my History Matters column.
Jeff found a reference to Laurel in an index of Universal newsreels that date back to the 1920s. The reference concerned the Bonus Army of 1932. Coincidentally, I had recently read the excellent book “The Bonus Army” by Paul Dickson and Thomas B. Allen, so I was well acquainted with the topic but amazed that Laurel had played a role. Laurel was not mentioned in the book.
The shameful story began in 1924 when World War I veterans were promised a service bonus, most of which were to be paid 21 years later in 1945! Once the Great Depression hit, thousands of destitute and homeless veterans marched on Washington to demand the promised bonus for their service to the country. President Herbert Hoover, aided by J. Edgar Hoover, smeared the veterans’ cause by claiming it was organized by Communists.
When that classy (and untrue) move didn’t deter the veterans, President Hoover then called out the military, led by Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur and then-Major George Patton. The unarmed U.S. Army veterans were pushed by horses, bayonets, and tear gas back on Pennsylvania Ave over the 11th St. Bridge to their cardboard and ramshackle dwellings, which were burned to the ground under MacArthur’s orders.
Most of the veterans went home after that, but many wanted to stay and push for the cause. A woman from Catonsville offered them her land near Laurel to establish a permanent camp. The story reveals what happened next.
This video, from a 1932 Universal newsreel, shows veterans leaving Washington, DC and arriving at the Laurel camp, which was still being organized. Source: National Archives and Records Administration.
This video, also from a Universal newsreel, has footage of MacArthur’s troops and Patton’s tanks pushing the veterans down Pennsylvania Ave. It also shows the U.S. Army using tear gas on the unarmed WWI veterans, and their camp being burned down under MacArthur’s orders. Source: National Archives and Records Administration.
This video has more footage of the Bonus Army in Washington and then the veterans fleeing the tear gas fired by the military. Source: National Archives and Records Administration.
Here is the link to the story in the Laurel Leader. Come back when you’re finished reading!
Laurel’s Billy the Kid
I came across a Baltimore Sun article from 1911 that was an extraordinarily detailed account of a failed bank robbery in Laurel. Just writing about someone trying to rob the Citizen’s National Bank on Main Street in 1911 would have been fun, but the details in the Sun made it an irresistible story to me. The story contained many Laurel characters of the day (some of whom I’d heard of), as well as an interesting twist as to who the bank robber actually was.
My son, Jeff, served as my research assistant and photographer for this one. We interviewed Bernie Robinson, the current manager of the bank (now PNC Bank), who gave us an extended tour of the bank, especially the original structure from 1890 that is completely absorbed into today’s bank. We also talked to Jim McCeney, Ken Skrivseth, and Karen Lubieniecki, downtown residents who provided valuable information on the neighborhood where the robber fled. When Ken showed us the alley that runs between Main and Prince George Streets, the Kid’s path while running for his life became obvious.
Here is the link to the story in the Laurel Leader:
A nice epilogue to the story was written by Prince George’s County Circuit Judge C. Philip Nichols Jr., a Laurel native, who followed the story with great interest. Nichols did some research to find out what happened to the Kid. Here’s his contribution:
Investigation Files of the George Wallace Shooting
After filing a Freedom of Information Act request, I waited over a year for the National Archives to release the FBI’s files concerning the attempted assassination of Presidential candidate Alabama Governor George Wallace at the Laurel Shopping Center in May, 1972. I was curious if the files would contain anything that hadn’t already been reported many times over the years. I’m still waiting.
So I went to Plan B and contacted the Prince George’s County Police Department to see if they had any files. To my delight I was put in contact with Lt. Shawné Waddy, Assistant Commander of the PG Police Records Management Division, who was outstanding in supporting my request. Together with Technican Justin Blalock, they provided enough files and photos to fill a Xerox box.
Like everyone else in Laurel I followed the coverage of the shooting and the subsequent trial closely, as well as all the articles over the years since. But I was amazed at how much information was contained in the files that was new to me. It took me a few weeks to go through all of the interviews with eyewitnesses, police, Secret Service agents, and medical personnel, along with investigation reports and photos. Owing to the quantity of information in the investigative files, this was the longest “History Matters” I’ve written, and one of the most widely read. The article appeared in the Laurel Leader on July 9, 2015.
Here is the link to the story in the Laurel Leader. Come back when you’re finished reading!
The one Laurel landmark that seems to generate the most interest is the long-ago demolished Laurel Sanitarium. There’s much information on the Internet about it, but as my research discovered, a whole lot of myths and tall tales passing for truth. The true story of the sanitarium is so bizarre it doesn’t need embellishment. The column ran in the Laurel Leader on July 10, 2014.
Again, here is the link to the story in the Laurel Leader. Come back when you’re finished reading!