Top 10 crimes
Identifying top 10 crimes of any era is a daunting task and my list is far from complete. Readers gave me terrific suggestions but in the end 10 means 10. Except here I give you 15 (save the limit to the print editions).
The first difficulty was to figure out a category – top 10 most brutal? – for example. I decided to look back roughly 20 years, exclude white collar crime (thought that would be a good category for later) and pick crimes that have some lasting meaning beyond the lurid details.
That too proved difficult. Baltimore has experience a lot of witness intimidation crime but I went with the Dawson case because I think that still speaks for all of them – seven people dead, including five children, in a firebombing.
There’s of course the Lackl case and the poor community activist who survived a firebombing and bravely testified against her attackers (though even with them in prison, it was still too unsafe for her to return home). There also was the witness who walked away from a safe house to spend time with his family at Thanksgiving only to get executed as he sat on a bar stool near his home.
All these cases are outrageous in their own way. The murder of a nun in her convent didn’t make it (I thought this case important because it occurred during the city’s most murderous year, 1993, and seemed to speak for crime being out of control. Joe Metheny also got left off the top 10 list, though he was one of the scariest cold-blooded defendants I've ever seen. Many from the suburbs didn't make the list either, but are worthy of mention, including a 1990s murder over a pen in a Dunkin Donuts.
Zach Sowers also didn’t make it, though his attack in Canton and subsequent death spoke volumes about crime in up and coming neighborhoods, about our system that let the attackers plead guilty before Zach died, meaning no life sentences, and the case became political fodder during a campaign.
Difficult decisions all. I look forward to your input. Here's the expanded list:
1. Dontay Carter — Sentenced in 1993 to two consecutive life prison terms plus an additional 190 years for murder and kidnapping in a string of downtown crimes. He famously escaped custody by leaping out of a second-floor courthouse window sparking a manhunt rivaled only by the search in 1964 for the Veney brothers wanted in the killing of a police sergeant. He is the reason there are two images on your driver’s license; the state had to upgrade its design after Carter had easily obtained a replacement license in the name of a man he had murdered.
2. Harold Benjamin Dean — the only inmate to successfully escape from Maryland’s Supermax penitentiary. He had been serving a life plus 105 years in prison for killing a tow-truck driver and critically wounding an armored car guard in a 1981 robbery in Montgomery County. He escaped in 1991 by squeezing through an 8-inch by 22-inch window, getting around razor wire and climbing to the prison roof on a rope make of clothing. He was captured 10 months later.
3. Joseph C. Palczynksi — went on a two-week rampage in 2000 when he fatally shot a couple his ex-girlfriend was living with and a neighbor who had come to her aid. He then kidnapped his ex-girlfriend’s mother, her boyfriend and their 12-year-old son, and two others in a 97-hour hostage ordeal that ended when the woman spiked his ice tea with Xanax and jumped out of a window. Baltimore County police stormed the apartment and shot Palczynski dead with 27 bullets.
4. Anthony Ayeni Jones — a drug lord who ruled over one of the city’s most murderous narcotics organizations in the 1990s convicted of killing and conspiring to kill rival, federal witnesses and their mothers while running a $30,000-a-day cocaine and heroin organization. He had a corrupt cop on his payroll. From federal prison, he developed his own coded language to order hits that were carried out; it took prosecutors months to decipher the code. He calmly popped a Lifesaver into his mouth as the jury found him guilty in 1998.
5. The Dawsons — this case epitomizes a string of horrific witness intimidation cases that later included the murder of Carl Lackl who witnessed a slaying in Baltimore, the killing of another witness on a bar stool over Thanksgiving and the firebombing of a community leaders house. In 2002, a drug dealer firebombed an East Baltimore house whose residents had complained to police, killing five children and their parents. This put Baltimore’s crime problem and difficulties in arresting entrenched drug dealers on the national map.
6. The killing of Sister MaryAnn Glinka — the 50-year-old nun was found bound, gagged and murdered inside her Northeast Baltimore convent in 1993, a crime that shocked a city during its most murderous year on record. She was one of 353 murder victims, a staggering number that forced out the city’s police commissioner. The killing of Glinka scared the city and made it seem that criminals could strike anybody at any time and any where. "This is as bad as it gets," one city official said at the time.
7. John Frederick Thanos — Unrepentant to the end, this killer of three teenagers in a week-long 1990 Labor Day rampage was the first person put to death in Maryland after a 33-year moratorium had ended. Asked if had any last words, Thanos said, "Get on with it" and then uttered "adios" before the lethal injection was administered. He had repeatedly refused to appeal his convictions, fired his attorneys and thwarted others who opposed the death sentence. He told his victim’s families in court that he wished their dead children would rise from the dead so he could kill them again. He argued it was cruel and unusual punishment to keep him alive.
8. Solothal Deandre "Itchy Man" Thomas — Now put away in federal prison, he was the poster child in 2002 for everything that was wrong with Baltimore’s criminal justice system, having dodged two murder and a dozen attempted murder charges in the late 1990s and early 2000s. One Sun article noted that "his case shows how one man, repeatedly indicted for serious crimes, has been freed time after time by faulty and insufficient police investigations, prosecution missteps and frightened witnesses intimidated into silence by a culture of drugs and violence." He once astounded police by scaling a public housing high-rise to elude capture, climbing from balcony to balcony until he disappeared into a vacant seventh-floor apartment.
9. Zach Sowers — the June 2007 attack on the new homeowner outside his Canton Park rowhouse brought into sharp focus the city’s crime problem at a time when officials were trying lure residents back into neighborhoods they had abandon years ago. The housing boom was still in full swing and Sowers and his wife Anna were the target group — young professionals contributing to remaking Baltimore into a viable city. The robbery and attack put Sowers into a coma for 10 months; he died after the suspects had been tried and sentenced, so they could not again be charged in his murder. The suspects had used one of his credit cards to rent two movies, Deja Vu and Smokin’ Aces, and the case became fodder for city elections, a focal point for politicians debating crime and a launching pad for Anna Sowers to rail against what she contended was a too-lenient judicial system.
10. Mark Castillo — The 43-year-old father of three took his kids to the Maryland Science Center in March 2008, then to their 10th floor downtown hotel room, and then systematically drowned each one, ages 2, 4 and 6, in a bathtub, timing the submersion with a stop watch. He lay each body on a hotel bed, tried but failed to kill himself and then called the desk clerk to report what he had done. He said he wanted to get back at his ex-wife.
11. Children slayings, Policarpio Espinoza and his nephew Adan Canela, both immigrants from Mexico, were convicted with three counts of first-degree murder in the May 2004 deaths of a 9-year-old brother and sister and their 10-year-old male cousin at the family’s Fallstaff apartment. The pair beheaded one child and nearly decapitated the other two in a gruesome slaying for which neither police nor prosecutors have identified a clear motive. The two are appealing their conviction
12. Women slain — The December 1999 execution-style killings of five women in a Northwest Baltimore — killed by a drug dealer who wanted to send a message to his rivals by killing female relatives — shocked a city whose residents learned there were no boundaries to drug hits and violence. The dealers were fighting over turf in O’Donnell Heights that was left open after the feds busted a large drug gang there. The mayor at the time called the slayings a "mass murder" and the victims included relatives and friends of the drug dealers. A day later, another family member, a young man, was shot and killed on a school playground, and one of the suspects was found by police lying on a sidewalk with his throat slashed.
13. Joseph R. Metheny — He claimed to have killed 10 people but was charged and convicted of killing only two, including a city prostitute, and burying their remains under his trailer at a Southwest Baltimore pallet company. He was sentenced to die in 1998 but an appeals court overturned the sentenced and sent him to prison for life without parole. At his sentencing, he pleaded to be put to death and said, "The words, ‘I’m sorry’ will never come out, for they would be a lie. I am more than willing to give up my life for what I have done, to have God judge me and send me to hell for eternity." He said he killed because he "enjoyed it" and after being sentenced to death, he kissed his defense attorney on the cheek, who then put her head on the defense table and cried. He had been acquitted in 1998 for killing two homeless men with an ax at a makeshift camp in South Baltimore and admitted later he had lied and gotten away with it when he denied his involvement. He said he threw other bodies in the Patapsco River that were never found.
14. Nicholas W. Browning — the 16-year-old shot and killed his parents and two brothers as they slept in their Cockeysville home in 2008. He cited years of physical abuse and insults he said he had suffered at the hands of his father, a Towson attorney whose 9mm pistol he used. Asked by a detective why he had shot them all in the head, Browning answered, "I just figured it would be quicker. It would just be instant." He pleaded guilty and is serving four consecutive life sentences. At a hearing, prosecutors played the videotape of Browning’s confession to a detective, Matthew Walsh, in which the boy described sleeping late at a friend’s house after the killings and then going shopping at Towson Town Center. On the screen, he was shown taking a break from the interview by ordering a double-bacon cheeseburger, fries and a Diet Coke.
15. Raymont Hopewell — He confessed to killing five people, four women and a man, all age 60 or older. He pleaded guilty in 2006 and apologized to the families and was sentenced to four consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole. He broke into people’s homes and in one case, he raped a woman who used a cane. During the attack, the woman asked him how he would feel if someone did that to his mother and he answered, "My mother’s dead." In another house, he broke in through a kitchen window, grabbed a woman from behind and pressed a knife to her neck. After the attack, he hung around long enough to drink three cans of soda and a loaf of bread.