« Honoring a fallen officer | Main | Marathon and crime »

October 9, 2009

Help name top 10 crimes

I've been asked to compile a list of the top-10 most notorious crimes in and around Baltimore.

This is not an easy task given the volume. I'm asking for help from readers who may remember crimes that I don't. I've covered cops here since 1994 and I remember many crimes that go back before then, but I could use some assistance.

I've thought of some of the more obvious ones -- the Palczynski hostage drama, the firebombing of the Dawson house, the beheading of a gypsy, the killing of a nun in her convent, the killings of John Thanos, the politician Bromwell and the savings and loan swindler Jeffrey Levitt.

I'm not sure what criteria to use but maybe after some more tips I'll narrow the list a bit. There's violent crime and corruption, criminals who are more known for their antics then for the crimes they committed, and vice versa. There's all sorts of ways to define this.

Some I picked out just for the details -- a convicted drug lord who calmly popped a life-savor as the jury found him guilty and Thanos, who not only wanted to be executed told the family of his victims he wished their children would come back to life so he could kill them again.

So I throw it open to you. I look forward to your responses.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:01 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Confronting crime


How about the student who was murdered at the Dunkin Donuts in Severna Park over a fountain pen? I believe it happened in the summer of 1992 or 1993 and was the inspiration for a Homicide episode.

Tough job here. Crime in Baltimore has a lot of dimensions so where do you begin? Definitely agree that Thanos and the Dawson tragedy are contenders. Not so much for Bromwell and Levitt though, yes, they are criminals, too.

It was around Cristmas time In Catonsvile MD. When a grandmother whom was shopping with her grandchildren was killed on the back lot of Westview Mall. That ,I will never forget and I think of it every Christmas when I am out and about .

What about the 5 women who were killed in their home on the North East side of Baltimore. I'm not sure if that was the late 90's or very beginning of 2000's. I don't know if they ever found who killed these women. I think it was a guy in the house at the time who survived or something. Also, what about the mother & granddaughter who were killed a couple years ago or so. I never heard a follow up about that. I know they mentioned the granddaughter was a troubled teen or something. I think these two are very horrible crimes that no follow up was ever mentioned. Multiple people lost their lives.

Robert and Kathy Swartz of Cape St. Claire, Maryland were murdered by their adopted son.

In 1981, Annette L. Stebbing was convicted along with her husband, Bernard, of strangling Bernard's step-niece, Dena Polis.

In 1982, Doris Ann Foster was convicted of fatally stabbing hotel owner Josephine Dietrich, 71, with a screwdriver during a robbery at a North East motel.

The killings of Joseph Hudson and Diane Becker in Harford County on May 25, 1981by Deno Kanaras and John Huffington over a drug debt. Killed in front of infant in crib.

Last but definitely not least, Cynthia McKay who was convicted of murdering Anthony Frititta and then setting him on fire. Also suspected of first husbands death in a house fire.

What about the beheading of the children by their family in the early 2000's. That was really crazy. The Westview mall incident was Wesley Baker, he was executed in 2005

Zach Sowers. Two from recent weeks may also qualify: the woman discovered in a manhole in Govans, and the grandmother who was set on fire by her junkie relative.

The stabbing death of Shantell Brown on Sept. 25,2009. She was 31 yrs old, Now 2 little girls are left with no mother. What is happening with her case?

Does the death of Luther Mahoney at the hands of Detective Mike Kellerman, count?

Since you mentioned John Thanos I assume that you're including Baltimore County. If that's the case I'd have to nominate Steven Oken's horrific murders.

Raymont Hopewell is another monster who belongs on this list, raping and murdering multiple old ladies is as bad as it gets. Joseph Metheny should go on there as well, I forget how many people he killed but he was awful enough that Patricia Jessamy sought the death penalty against him.

If you're looking for a horrible crime from the early 1980s there's the horrific murder of Irvin and Rose Bronstein in Pikesville in 1983. One of their killers remains on death row to this day, as their daughter continues to demand justice for her parents.

A few other ones that come to mind are the kidnapping and murder of Christine Doerfler in 1989, the cold-blooded murder of officer Vincent Adolpho in 1985 and the ambush & killing of Detective Thomas Newman a few years ago (sorry I can't remember the date.)

While I'm at it, I can't believe I forgot to mention the Warren House Motel murders in 1983. That story is unbelievably tragic, especially if you read a bit about the story of Cheryl Bradshaw. The Washington Post had an interesting story about her back in 1998 shortly after she died.

Who was the drug lord who popped a life saver? My first guess would be Anthony Grandison, but there are so many evil people in this town.

Larry Swartz's murder was a big enough story that NBC produced a made-for-TV movie with Neil Patrick Harris.

Swartz's brother also murdered a man in Annapolis over a jar of quarters.

Warren House murders

1983 Christmas Day beheading of the infant in Randallstown

Decapitation of three children in Park Heights

Nicholas Browning killing his family

Jonathan Luna

Hi Peter,

Four cases come to mind:

* In the late 1960s, a young man, first name Reginald, prowled Leakin Park and killed several young boys. In one of the more bizarre stories I ever covered, the suspect confessed to city homicide cops that he severed the private parts of his victims, placed them in a lunch box and later cannibalized them. Unknow final disposition of the case which stunned city residents and beyond.

* Late 70s or early 80s, Michael Schindler, senior class president at Patapsco High School, and his friend, last name Robertson, son of a local minister, were hired by a somewhat older man to kill his wife and his grandmother. The murder scene in northeast Baltimore was brutal -- Schindler straddled one of the victims on the floor and stabbed her so viliontly that the knife went through the woman's body and cut the floor surface with the weapon's tip. Schindler, perhaps 18 at conviction was sent away to Patuxent Instition, unknow details of sentence; Robertson also found guilty, sent to prison. It was an interesting, complex trial. What emerged: the murderers earned about $50 for their "contract" hit. The man who hired them also was convicted.

* In an ending to a story that Olesker and I worked on for six months in the mid 70s, Del. James (Turk) Scott was ambushed and killed in the parking garage of his Howard Street apartment building. Scott, a popular East Baltimore figure who owned owned Turk's Alpine Villa on Harford Road, was appointed by political leaders to the House of Delegates, replacing a lawmaker who died. While in Annapolis deciding on issues and laws of the day, he continued to be a major domo in a multi-kilogram heroin operation based in New York City and which pumped large amounts of the drug each month into Baltimore. After several of our stories, Scott was indicted on federal charges, along with his associate, Benjamin "Eggy" Davis. Word got to us that Scott was going to cooperate with federal prosecutors but and was murdered before his trial began. While a local radical group tried to lay claim to the murder, law enforcement sources believed that Scott was murdered by, or on orders from, Frankie "Pee Wee" Matthews, a flamboyant gangster whose multi-million dollar heroin operation reached into 21 states. Matthews, dubbed "Black Caesar" by both street admirers and law enforcement officlals, lived an oppulent life style, a Staten Island mansion with marble floors and gold-plated fixtures. He, too, was indicted in New York and disappeared shortly before Scott's killing. Matthews was never apprehended. That story rocked Annapolis, Baltimore and the state.

* The partially decomposed body of Sister Catherin Cesnik was found on a lot in Lansdowne in the winter of 1970. Students at Archbishop Kehough H. S. and other sources told Bob Erlandson and I (we worked this story, in the late 1990s, for about a year; the Baltimore archdiocese attempting to have me arrested...and also demanding that Bob and I be fired) that Cesnik, a popular teacher at the high school, had been told by students that they had been sexually abused by a priest there, Father Joseph Maskell. The nun was going to tell school officlas and police; she was murdered before that happened. Maskell was eventually removed from his pastorship, eventually the priesthood and he fled to Ireland. He returned to Baltimore where he died a short time later. The nun's murder remains unsolved.

Joe Nawrozki

Not to make light of the subject of your poll. But how about the piece of crap story you wrote relative to crime and the marathon. What a piece of crap!! It saddens me that you think that this is the story of the marathon. You and your editors should be run out of town!! Pure garbage and certainly a tragedy and new low in journalism. Disgusting!!

You might want separate categories for white-collar and vioelnt crime. Since you have a lot of contenders for the latter, here are a few for the former:

Anderson-Brewster cases
Spiro Agnew
Mitchell Brothers/Wedtech
Wally Orlinsky

If you were asked by a superior at the Baltimore Sun to compile this list, then what a new low for a once-great newspaper. Apparently no one stopped to consider the pain of surviving family members as awful memories are dredged up in pursuit of this perverse form of sicko info-tainment.

veney brother's

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Peter Hermann
Peter Hermann started covering news for The Baltimore Sun in 1990, first in Anne Arundel County and, starting in 1994, reporting on the Baltimore Police Department. In 2001, he was assigned to Jerusalem as the Baltimore Sun's Middle East correspondent. He returned in 2005 as an assistant city editor overseeing crime coverage. In 2008, Peter returned to the beat as a daily reporter and blogger. A recent BBC report featured him in a segment on the harsh realities of covering crime in Baltimore.

Coverage will focus on crime trends, problems in neighborhoods in the city and elsewhere, profiles of victims and police officers and try to offer readers a fresh perspective on one of the most vexing issues facing Baltimore and its future.

Contributing to this blog is Justin Fenton, who joined The Sun in 2005 and has covered the Baltimore City Police Department and the criminal justice system since 2008. His work includes an investigation into Cal Ripken Jr.’s minor league baseball stadium deal with his hometown of Aberdeen, a three-part series chronicling a ruthless con woman, coverage of the killing of five Amish children at a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., and a job swap with a British crime reporter to explore differences in crime-fighting. A special report looking into how city police handle rape cases led to sweeping reforms that changed the way sexual assaults are investigated in Baltimore. He was recognized as the best reporter in Baltimore by the City Paper in 2010 and by Baltimore Magazine in 2011.

In the news

Sign up for FREE local news alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for local news text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Breaking News newsletter
When a big news event breaks, we'll e-mail you the basics with links to up-to-date details.
Sign up

Charm City Current
Stay connected