Category Archives: Residents

Stefanie Watson Case: Indictment

Somewhere, I’d like to think that Stefanie Watson is looking down on us, smiling at the latest news—news that I first heard today from her cousin, Christy, who has been waiting 32 years for justice.

Two years have already passed since I first wrote about her murder, marking the 30th anniversary of a Laurel cold case that had somehow received next to no press throughout the decades. Then, last summer, the breakthrough finally came: Prince George’s County cold case detectives took the initiative to send DNA from the seat of Stefanie’s 1981 Chevette for analysis (the complete, blood-soaked chair had been kept in evidence all this time). Blood on the back unequivocally matched that of an inmate—John Ernest Walsh—who’s been incarcerated since 1989.

Walsh, who had been incomprehensibly released from Jessup’s now-defunct Patuxent Institution—despite having served only 8 years of a 72-year sentence for an unrelated kidnapping, rape, and attempted murder—committed this horrific crime during his brief period of freedom, before violating his parole in 1989 and returning to jail. He’s been a guest of Eastern Correctional Institution for the past 25 years; but until last summer, the thought of ever facing charges in Stefanie Watson’s murder had probably never crossed his mind.

Last June, Prince George’s County Police announced that a warrant was filed against Walsh. And today, after taking nearly 15 months to bolster their case, they announced the official indictment.

We’re also finally getting a chance to see what Walsh looked like around the time of his fateful encounter with Stefanie.

john-ernest-walsh-1970s-mugs

Nope. Not much improvement.

So, the next step will be the actual trial—where John Ernest Walsh will finally answer for the murder of Stefanie Watson during that unforgettable summer of 1982.

Laurel hasn’t forgotten Stefanie, and never will. Those of us who lived there in the days following her disappearance; in the weeks after young Todd McEvers made that grisly discovery in the woods at the dead end of Larchdale Road; and in the three decades it’s taken to find the man responsible for her death. We’re finally ready to see justice, and hopefully get even more answers.

stefanie-winking

(Family photo)

 

 

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Driving Through Laurel, 1973

Finding photos of vintage Laurel is tough enough, so you can imagine how special it is to find actual film footage. This wonderful clip was shared by Gary M. Smith, and it provides us with an all-too-brief glimpse of a decent portion of Laurel—captured on 8mm film from the passenger seat of a car driven by Milton J. Smith, Sr. in 1973.

It’s a classic 3-minute reel with some interruptions and jumpiness, but there are plenty of unmistakable landmarks throughout the drive. Now that I have the privilege of being your tour guide, here are a few sites to watch for:

  • We start out in North Laurel at the Beech Crest Estates Mobile Home park—the sign for which can be seen at 0:07. Several of the trailers and residents can be seen over the next 30 seconds.
  • At the 0:35 mark, we’re driving driving southbound on Washington Boulevard (Rt. 1), and we pass the California Inn, just north of Whiskey Bottom Rd.
  • Continuing southbound on Rt. 1, we see Sam & Elsie’s Bar at the 0:46 mark.
  • A billboard advertising the nearby Valencia Apartments appears at 0:53.
  • At 0:57, we cross the oft-flooded bridge over the Patuxent and see the Homoco gas station—the remnants of which were only recently torn down on the Fred Frederick automotive property.
  • At 1:02 (just after a bus—probably a Trailways—unfortunately blocks our view of Main Street) we pass White’s Texaco Station, and get just the faintest glimpse of the Little Tavern beside it.
  • The film skips forward a bit at 1:08, where we find ourselves at the intersection of Rt. 1 and Montgomery Street, and Floyd Lilly’s Laurel Amoco Super Service Station, which won a Chamber of Commerce award “for excellence in design, planning, and beautification”. (Imagine a gas station doing that…)
  • I’m not entirely sure, but at 1:16, we seem to be heading west on Talbott Avenue/Rt. 198 beside Donaldson Funeral Home.

  • At 1:47, we’re now on Main Street—heading west beside the infamous Laurel Hotel, with its distinctive stone facade and wooden porch.
  • Bob’s Cab appears just before we see the wooden front of Gayer’s Saddlery at 1:55.
  • The drive continues up to the end of Main Street, where we turn left onto 7th Street at (fittingly) the 2:16 mark. Here we pass St. Mary of the Mills church and cemetery.
  • At 2:37, there’s a brief glimpse of what is likely Laurel Municipal Swimming Pool, before the geography skips over to northbound Rt. 1 at the 2:38 mark—where we can clearly see the old 7-Eleven and Village Inn Pizza Parlor along Bowie Road.
  • Continuing northbound along Rt. 1, we pass the Exxon and Plain ‘n Fancy Donuts before getting a nice view of Safeway and Dart Drug, which sat just beside the railroad tracks and my old neighborhood of Steward Manor.

And that’s about where our drive through 1973 comes to an end, sadly. But any chance to step back in time—especially in a moving vehicle like this—is pretty amazing. I’ve found myself comparing the footage with Google Street Views of the same stretches of road today, just to see how much has changed… and how much has surprisingly stayed the same.

Many thanks again to Gary for sharing this footage! It’s also a reminder to everyone to check their own old home movies and family photo albums, as you never know what might turn up.

 

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Laurel’s Link to Sports (Collectors) History

When I was about 11 years old, I started collecting baseball and football cards. As a sports fan, the early 1980s was an exciting time to be living in Laurel, Maryland—literally midway between the 1982 Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins and the 1983 World Series Champion Baltimore Orioles.

It was around that time that Mike McNeal, one of my best friends in the neighborhood, gave me something that upped the ante: a handful of plastic protector sheets for my collection. He’d found them at a place called “Den’s Collectors Den”, which was tucked away in the Laureldale Business Center off Rt. 198 in Maryland City, just behind what was then the Toyota dealership on Laureldale Drive. How he ever found it, I still don’t know; but one day, his mom drove us both there to stock up.

dens-catalogue-centerfold-1984

dens-google-map-location

These plastic sheets are common today, and come in more shapes and sizes than ever—in fact, I use Ultra Pro Platinum sheets for the bulk of my Lost Laurel stuff: 8″ x 10″ photos, matchbook covers, 4″ x 6″ postcards… and, of course, Bob Windsor football cards.

ultra-pro-platinum-pages

But those early sheets from Den’s Collectors Den are even more special today—the name and Laurel address were embossed right into the plastic!

DENS-COLLECTORS-DEN-WINDSOR

Admittedly, I was never what you’d call a serious collector. I liked finding cards of my favorite players, and trading with friends; and to some degree, the design of those old cards might have even played a small part with me eventually becoming a graphic designer. But at the time, the concept of “value” never really entered my mind. I knew that older cards were certainly worth more, but that was about the extent of it. Of course, now I cringe at the memory of the countless rookie cards I let slip through my fingers… Cal Ripken and Rickey Henderson… Joe Montana and John Elway… *sigh* But I digress.

No, back then it was all for fun—as it should be. And part of the fun was discovering the tools of the collecting trade itself, and there was no better guide to such things than a catalog from Den’s Collectors Den.

dens-catalogue-cover-1984dens-catalogue-backcover-1984

Absolutely stuffed with products and information, the catalogs themselves were something to behold. More than anything, Den’s promoted an array of baseball card pricing guides—which were updated every year to give collectors (even amateurs like me) a guideline for card values. It was an added thrill to look up a particular card in your collection, and find that it was more valuable than others. In my case, this usually meant a difference of about 40¢. But again, I digress.

1984 Street and Smith Dens Ad

These price guides also included a “condition guide”, which showed you the basics for grading cards—everything from “mint condition” to “poor”.

card condition guide

What I didn’t realize at the time (and, in fact, only recently learned) was that the whole concept of sports card pricing guides essentially began with Den’s Collectors Den—specifically, the owner, Dennis “Denny” Eckes.

denny-eckes-headshot

Dennis W. Eckes, 1983 (Photo: The Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide Number 5)

Denny had produced a rudimentary handbook between 1975 and 1978, called “The Sport Americana Checklist”—a nearly 100-page, saddle-stitched black and white booklet that was a mishmash of typeset lists, thumbnail images to represent each card type, and numerous late additions clearly made with a common typewriter. It was exactly what the title claimed—a basic checklist of every baseball card issued since 1948, and some generalized pricing information added to the backmatter. But in this completely uncredited book was the basic formula for what would become the modern sports card price guide.

sport-americana-1978-booklet

The 1975 checklist booklet.

Sport Americana 1st checklist

Detail from the 1975 booklet. Hmm… I should check into whether or not I’m related to #392 Bob Friend.

 

Scan 218 Den's ad, 1978 checklist back

Everything changed the very next year, when Denny teamed up with a statistician and fellow collector named Dr. James Beckett. Yes, that Dr. James Beckett—the one who would eventually launch Beckett Media, the world’s preeminent authority on collecting. In 1979, they produced what is today universally acknowledged as the first price guide of its kind. And as you can see on the title page, it was published and distributed by Den’s Collectors Den of Laurel, Maryland.

sport-americana-1979-no1-coversport-americana-1979-title-page

Due to demand, there were actually two versions of the first Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide in 1979. And when I say “in demand”, I mean it—kids and adults alike clamored for the book, and most weren’t exactly gentle with it in their haste to discover the value of the hidden gems in their collection:

sport-americana-1979-no1-ducktape

Someone was determined to hold this copy together by any means necessary. (Photo: eBay)

The edition with the white cover was the original, and is the Holy Grail of price guides if there ever was one. But shortly thereafter, an alternate cover was designed that included the “Baseball Card” logo in a custom typeface—this would appear on all subsequent issues under the Sport Americana banner. And on the back cover of both was a full-page, full-color ad for Den’s Collectors Den.

sport-americana-no1-front-coversport-americana-no1-back-cover

sport-americana-no1-title-page

Inside cover & title page of the updated version, which included author bios.

Eckes and Beckett didn’t stop there. Throughout the early 1980s, they expanded the Sport Americana brand with additional books, including the Alphabetical Baseball Card Checklist (1979) and the Baseball Memorabilia and Autograph Price Guide (1982).

sprot-americana-alphabet-checklist-no1-cover

sport-americana-baseball-memorabilia-no1-cover

All the while, Den’s Collectors Den—the physical store in Laurel—continued its success. The price guides, plastic protector sheets, and other goodies were hot sellers.

Always the collector, Denny traveled the country, participating in the fledgling sports card trading show circuit—which itself is a massive industry today. In his dealings, he’d frequently unearth rare items which he’d typically manage to share with the collecting community in some shape or form. A perfect example was his discovery of previously unpublished artwork that matched the 1934-36 series of the National Chicle Company’s popular Diamond Stars set. A blank-backed proof sheet of 12 additional cards was determined to be the series’ 1937 extension that never was; and Denny ultimately had the proof reproduced and the cards brought to life in 1981. He even reinterpreted the classic wrapper itself, which bears his company’s name and Laurel address.

DIAMOND STARS WITH WRAPPER 1981

diamond-stars-1934-1981-wrappers

For $3, you could buy a professionally-printed set of 12 cards that completed a legendary collection that had been cut short some 45 years earlier.

diamond-stars-reprint-packagediamond-stars-cards-dens-plasticdens-diamond-stars-reprint-backdens-diamond-stars-reprint-ad

This type of “reprint” was extremely rare at the time, and it inspired Denny to create yet another niche in the market. Den’s Collectors Den also carried similar extension sets and reprints produced by other manufacturers, such as the 1952 Bowman set by TCMA.

Den's 1952 Bowman Extension ad

I’ve heard from a number of collectors and hobbyists who knew Denny Eckes personally, and I’ve never heard a negative thing about the man. Naturally, I was curious as to what became of him, as there seemed to be very little information beyond the final books he produced in 1990—expanding into football and basketball price guides, as well as a book of baseball players’ agents’ mailing addresses for autograph hunters.

Unfortunately, I found the answer in the June 1991 issue of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly, one of the many expanded publishing efforts that James Beckett had taken on after his early success with Denny and Sport Americana. Filling the first page of that issue is a moving tribute—a eulogy to Dennis W. Eckes, who’d passed away unexpectedly in his sleep on April 15, 1991. He was only 48. The eulogy was written by Dr. Beckett himself, and paints a glowing portrait of a true visionary whose influence is still being felt in what has become a bigger business than ever before.

becket-monthly-june91-cover becket-monthly-june91-memorian

Denny Eckes, who ran the inconspicuous little sports memorabilia shop in a Laurel industrial park, made quite a splash in his short lifetime. My only personal experience with him was some 30 years ago—as a kid at his glass display counter, eager to plop down my meager allowance at 25¢ per plastic sheet for my football cards. But the products he sold and the pastime he promoted have certainly stuck with me all these years, and I’m grateful to finally know and share a bit more about his legacy. Hopefully, someone who knows his story better than I do will be able to help shed even more light on this remarkable man.

 

dens-store-ad

 

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Stanley Memorial Library: What’s In a Name?

UPDATE: 3/8/14

Shortly after stories were published about opposition to the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System’s plan to drop the “Stanley Memorial” name from the new library, Laurel resident Maureen Johnson wrote a letter to the editor of the Laurel Leader, in favor of changing the name. She brought to light an important historical detail that had been readily available in Charles H. Stanley’s online biography, but until now, hadn’t so much as raised an eyebrow: he fought for the Confederacy.

She raised the point that it’s not necessarily the fact that a library is named after a Confederate veteran that troubles her; it’s the location of the library that is going to undoubtedly rub many residents the wrong way—Laurel’s historically African-American neighborhood, The Grove. Moreover, the new building will occupy an even larger portion of Emancipation Park than the current building does.

Maureen gave an interview with NBC4’s Tracee Wilkins last night that explained her position well:

NBC4 News screenshot

Click image for link to video and story on NBCWashington.com

It’s crucial that I include this update, because much has changed over the last few days—and it’s in the interest of fairness that I add Maureen’s voice to the story.

When I wrote the original post below—and subsequently launched a petition urging the Library Board to keep the Stanley name, it was solely in response to the news that the PGCMLS was planning to drop the name “in order to make the library easier to find”—which I think we can all agree was a universally absurd reason.

As far as I was concerned at the time, the only issue at hand was the library’s potential breach of contract with the Stanley family—the descendants of Charles Stanley, who generously donated the land for which a library in his honor was constructed.

For whatever reason, it seems that the idea of actually researching the complete life history of Mr. Stanley himself has just never manifested until now. And in the heat of the moment, reading what little information was posted about him, the innocuous mention that he served as a private in the Confederate army admittedly didn’t have anywhere near the emotional effect on me as it did Ms. Johnson; and that resulted in some spirited back-and-forth on Facebook earlier this week.

I’m happy to report that I had the chance to meet Maureen in person yesterday, and found her to be a wonderful, engaging lady who’s clearly passionate about her hometown. She’s also acutely aware of the sensitivity of this entire situation, and acknowledges that it’s complicated on so many levels.

We discussed my concern that Stanley’s legacy of extensive service to Laurel shouldn’t be tarnished outright without significantly more research. There are snippets emerging of other potentially important and redeeming deeds that Stanley may have done in his lifetime that specifically benefited the African-American community, too—if verifiable, those types of things would certainly have to be taken into consideration, as well. By the same token, should more troubling details surface about his Civil War experience, it needs to come to light for history’s sake, and particularly for the sake of the surrounding community in which his namesake library has stood for nearly half a century.

The PGCMLS has a difficult task ahead, and I hope they’ll reach out to the Stanley family—or vice versa—and work together to reach a solution that’s in Laurel’s best interest.

We’ve hardly heard the last of this story. In the meantime, the Laurel Leader‘s Luke Lavoie has written the first extensive piece on it, which you can read here. There are plenty of good points within.

And if all that isn’t enough library action for you, don’t forget that today, March 8th, is actually the last day that the old building will be open to the public. Stop by and soak it all in, one last time.

 

***

The original post appears below.

***

(Laurel Historical Society collection)

(Laurel Historical Society collection)

The final week of Laurel’s Stanley Memorial Library is nearly upon us, as the building that opened in 1967 is scheduled to close on March 10th. After next Saturday, March 8th, patrons will have to wait until March 31st for the opening of a temporary facility behind the Municipal Center—as the old building will be demolished and construction set to begin on the town’s brand new facility.

The new library will be on the same site, situated at the corner of 7th & Talbott. So while Laurel isn’t technically losing its library, it will be losing the recognizable building that so many have utilized in its nearly 47 years. And that’s the toughest part for me, personally—having worked there as a clerical aide from 1987–97, I’m just not looking forward to seeing the place I knew so well torn down. I was part of the staff who, way back in 1993, physically moved every book, shelf, and table around during the expansion.

(Richard Friend/Lost Laurel collection)

(Richard Friend/Lost Laurel collection)

Make no mistake, getting a new library is a very big deal. And it’s good for Laurel. The branch desperately needed the expansion 21 years ago, and has since outgrown that, as well. And this year is shaping up to be one of a renaissance for the town, what with the opening of the new Town Centre at Laurel this Fall, and the library construction.

But one of the issues recently being brought to light is the name of the library itself—something that has been a bit blurred over the decades, and something which the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System has done little to clarify.

Most of us—myself included, as well as the very librarians and staff who’ve worked there for years—have always referred to the building as “the Laurel Library”. It’s how they answer the phones there, and it’s simply an accepted informal name. In fact, most people don’t even use “Laurel” when referring to it; because if you’re in Laurel and you’re going to “the library”, there’s only one you’re going to.

But at the same time, most of us who use these abbreviated names are still conscious of the fact that the building does have a proper name gracing its exterior—the Stanley Memorial Library. And now, for whatever reason, the Prince George’s County Board of Library Trustees is planning to formally drop Stanley’s name from the new building entirely. And they’re doing so under the auspices of “helping the public find the library”—as if A) people in Laurel have forgotten that there’s been a library at this location for nearly half a century, and B) you couldn’t Google directions in a matter of seconds—in this Internet age that has, in effect, almost made libraries obsolete.

(Wikipedia)

Charles H. Stanley (1842–1913) was the second mayor of Laurel, as well as the founder and president of Citizens National Bank on Main Street. A quick perusal of his biography at the Maryland State Archives will show that he was much more—not only in the Laurel community, but to Prince George’s County and the state of Maryland itself.

(Maryland State Archives)

(Maryland State Archives)

(Maryland State Archives)

(Maryland State Archives)

He lived and died in Laurel, and is buried at Ivy Hill Cemetery—where he could soon be spinning in his grave, should his name be unceremoniously dropped from the library that was always intended to bear his name.

stanley-grave

According to Sylvia Bolivar, president of the Prince George’s County Board of Library Trustees:

“The Board believes that naming a branch library according to its location helps the public to find libraries close to their neighborhoods, whereas a building named after a person, tends to render a library harder to find.”

She wrote this in a January 22nd response to Laurel Mayor Craig Moe, who had respectfully contested the change. PGCMLS director Kathleen Teaze supported her position in the name of “…(keeping) consistency among the system”—the system, of course, being a simple naming convention based on the branch location.

The Laurel Historical Society also supports keeping the name intact, and Executive Director Lindsey Baker not only submitted an editorial letter in this week’s Laurel Leader, but wisely pointed out this important tidbit:

In the 1963 deed transferring the land where the library currently sits, it specifically states that the Board of County Commissioners for Prince George’s County will erect “a Public Library Building to be known as ‘The Stanley Memorial Library’ ” on the land deeded from the Stanley family.

That fact alone should be legally ironclad, for as long as any library sits on the parcel of land at the corner of 7th and Talbott. And the Board of Library Trustees’ plan to “commemorate Stanley with a photo and memorial in the library lobby” is an embarrassingly poor compromise, when the man’s name was always intended to be much more prominently associated.

I know what some of you are probably thinking. “Who cares, right? It’s just a library.” I’m sure the Stanley family cares, having deeded the land for the library in the first place. Clearly Mayor Moe and the Laurel Historical Society care. I care, and you should care. Most of all, the Prince George’s County Board of Library Trustees had better start caring.

What I find most ironic in this is the complete lack of recognition of their own name, the Prince George’s County MEMORIAL Library System. Maybe they should consider changing that, if they’re no longer concerned with memorializing those who made the branches possible.

In fairness, I understand to some degree what they’re trying to do. Naming the libraries by location makes perfect sense; and again, people are inherently going to revert to calling them that anyway. It happens with many building dedications, including schools and government facilities. How many DC tourists do you think ask for directions to the “J. Edgar Hoover Building”? They don’t. They say, “Where’s the FBI building?” And that’s fine, because Mr. Hoover’s name is still on it, regardless.

If PGCMLS wishes to refer to the new building as the “Laurel Library”, I see no reason why they shouldn’t. The public can refer to it that way, as well. But the new building should nonetheless still prominently bear the name “Stanley Memorial Library”, as its original land deed intended. That part is non-negotiable. And ultimately, it would be no different than it’s always been.

(Laurel Leader, May 14, 1981)

(Laurel Leader, May 14, 1981)

(Photo: PGCMLS)

(Photo: PGCMLS)

***

I’d like to get back to the Board of Library Trustees’ idea of commemorating Mr. Stanley with a photo and memorial in the lobby for a moment, though. Because while it isn’t appropriate for Mr. Stanley himself in this circumstance, I certainly don’t mean to belittle a lobby tribute—to the right person. In fact, it might be unconventional, but there’s someone in particular I’d really like to see receive that honor.

A lot of wonderful people have worked at the Laurel branch since 1967, and sadly, some of them are no longer with us. One such person I’ll forever associate with the library is a gentleman named Tom Acra.

Tom Acra, January 1993. (Photo: Richard Friend)

Tom Acra, January 1993. (Photo: Richard Friend)

Tom Acra and librarian Brenda Hill, January 1993. (Photo: Richard Friend)

Tom and librarian Brenda Hill, January 1993. (Photo: Richard Friend)

Tom was the quintessential jack of all trades. Admittedly, I don’t recall what his official job title was—whether it was “maintenance supervisor” or “building superintendent” or something along those lines; one thing was clear—Tom took care of the Laurel Library like it was his home, and the employees and patrons like they were his family. He was the first person to open the building each morning and the last to lock up and leave; and from his modest workshop in the basement, he had the tools and skills necessary to handle any task at hand. A pipe burst? Tom could fix it. He was always there for any such maintenance emergency, but more routinely, he handled custodial duties: buffing the tiles, vacuuming the carpets, washing the windows, dusting and wiping down the shelves, and more. In the winter, there were no snow plow teams to clear the parking lot—there was only Tom, with a single shovel, a bucket of ice melt, and that familiar, friendly voice of his, cautioning everyone who approached to be careful not to slip. “Aww yeeeaah… watch your step, there…”

Tom was one of the first friends I made when I started working at the library, and no matter how busy he was, he always had time to chat about the Redskins, an upcoming election, the weather, or a particular history book that had caught his eye over in section 973. (Yes, after all these years, I still can’t shake the Dewey Decimal System…)

Tom had started working at the library straight out of high school himself, and simply kept at it year after year—learning the nuances of the building and caring for it like no one else. He’d been part of the first massive rearrangement of books in 1977, and spearheaded the laborious task again in 1993 when the library expanded.

(Laurel Leader, August 4, 1977)

(Laurel Leader, August 4, 1977)

As the years went on and the PGCMLS budget tightened, Tom was utilized even more. I can recall clerical aide hiring freezes that lasted for a year or longer; during which time Tom would help our depleted team by reshelving books and stamping date due cards. More often than not, we never even had to go out to unload the book drop, because Tom had beaten us to it.

Before long, he’d even been recruited to man the circulation desk, and seemed to relish the time spent helping patrons check out their books and other materials. His was a familiar face at checkout time on Sundays, especially—when most staff members opted for Sundays off. (Yes, the library was actually open on Sundays back then—during the school year, at least.)

And it was with the patrons that Tom really connected, ironically. He wasn’t a librarian, or someone you’d expect to be a “people person”, but that’s precisely what he was. In fact, he was a natural at it—and he connected with people of all ages. Kids from the neighboring Grove would occasionally come into the library for a drink from the water fountain and a brief respite from the outside heat, and their voices would inevitably get louder—a bit too loud for a library. Whereas most adults would blow a gasket, Tom had a gentle way of approaching the kids; for one thing, he knew them all by name, and they knew him. And in a matter of seconds, he’d have them quietly perusing a book or magazine, and then happily on their way.

Yes, Tom Acra was much more to the Stanley Memorial Library than just a maintenance man. Taking care of the building and its denizens was more than just a job to him.

Tom passed away unexpectedly in February 2003 at the age of 50. And when his beloved old library is torn down in the next few weeks, I’m kind of grateful he won’t have to be here to witness it.

tom-acra-grave

But in closing, I would like to offer these simple suggestions to the Prince George’s County Board of Library Trustees:

  • Continue to honor the legacy of Charles H. Stanley by placing the rightful name, “Stanley Memorial Library” on the new building. If you wish to refer to it within the system as the “Laurel Library”, by all means do so—just as you always have. But please don’t try to remove or relegate his name and think people won’t notice… or mind.
  • If you’re considering honoring someone from the community with a small memorial plaque in the lobby, honor someone who truly did give their all to the library. Tom Acra wasn’t a wealthy benefactor or politician, and you won’t readily find his name in books or newspapers; but he certainly invested a lifetime of care and stewardship into our library, and I have no doubt he’d do the same for the new building.
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Happy 80th, Fred Knapp!

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Admittedly, a blog update here is long overdue… (the Lost Laurel Facebook page has been getting all the action lately).

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t note this very special day on both pages. Fred Knapp is celebrating his 80th birthday today! According to his step-daughter, Debbie, Mr. Knapp is doing well and living in Elkridge.

While I’ve yet to get over the fact that we’ll never see another Keller’s/Knapp’s Laurel News Agency, the very thought of the jovial Fred Knapp enjoying his well-deserved retirement brings a smile to my face.

Happy birthday to a man who will always represent everything that was wonderful about Main Street.

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Stefanie Watson: What Really Happened 30 Years Ago?

Let me preface by saying that this post is quite a bit different than the others, and comes with the proverbial “viewer discretion advised” warning.

While it doesn’t focus on a lost business or restaurant per se, it’s a tragic story still quite relevant to Laurel’s retail history. For me, at least—because the “Missing Person” flyers I saw at Zayre, the mall, restaurants, gas stations, drug stores, and nearly everywhere else in Laurel as a child thirty years ago this week have certainly stayed with me. And a large part of what has fascinated me about this incredibly disturbing case—which remains open to this day—is how very little has actually been written about it in the thirty years since.

Like most Laurel children in 1982, I first heard about the Stefanie Watson case in brief, sanitized tidbits from my parents. It was scary stuff, to be sure—even for adults. Rumors and speculation abounded in the days and weeks after 27-year-old Stefanie Watson mysteriously vanished on July 22, 1982.

The general “facts” as I knew them at the time were stark… and terribly grim: she had worked at the Greater Laurel Beltsville Hospital; her car was found near Laurel Centre mall several days later, saturated with blood; and even more chilling, her head was discovered over a month later in the woods at the end of Larchdale Road. That’s all I knew then, and that’s really all I’d known ever since, until I began to revisit the crime myself earlier this year.

I imagine the details of Stefanie’s name and face have faded from some memories over the past three decades, but I’m positive that anyone—like me—who lived in Laurel at the time of her murder has never truly forgotten.

I was too young to read the newspapers or listen to the news reports, but word spread fast throughout Laurel in the wake of Stefanie’s disappearance. School was out for the summer at the time of her apparent abduction, but with the grisly skeletal discovery on September 3rd, I can remember Deerfield Run Elementary being on high alert. Letters were sent home to parents, advising caution—particularly for those who walked to school. Her murder came on the heels of the high-profile abduction and decapitation of young Adam Walsh just one year earlier. Deerfield Run administrators had sent letters home to parents then, as well.

I didn’t know it at the time, but one of the last places Stefanie Watson had been seen alive on July 22nd was at the Town Center Shopping Center, just a short walk away from my school on Rt. 197 and Contee Road.

That summer, I saw the missing person flyer often. I can still envision it taped to the front entrance window of Zayre, where I frequently stood for hours, hawking the wares of the fabled Olympic Sales Club—from whom I hoped to win the equally fabled prizes or cash.

That was one of my first “jobs”, selling these Olympic greeting cards and gifts. After canvassing every building in Steward Manor, I ventured over to Zayre to catch people as they entered.

It was during the frequent lulls of approaching Zayre customers (i.e., unknowing prospective Olympic Sales Club customers) that I couldn’t help staring at the Stefanie Watson flyer; I’d read it again and again, trying to grasp what could have possibly happened to the pretty lady whose photo seemed to watch over me protectively as I timidly repeated my sales pitch to strangers—any of whom, I feared, could’ve been the person responsible for her disappearance. I walked to Zayre from Steward Manor nearly every day that August to make my sales, and Stefanie Watson’s smiling face was always the first and last thing I saw there.

I soon learned that my uncle, Art, had worked with Stefanie at the hospital and knew her casually. Between my youthful innocence and his probable shock over losing a colleague in such a traumatic way, Art didn’t really say much about the matter. Not that I could blame him. He simply remembered her as being very nice, really friendly, and well-liked; and he was working that Thursday night—part of the cleaning crew—when she failed to show up. “It was also supposed to be her last night at work,” he said. “She was getting ready to move to Texas.”

When Stefanie’s 1981 Chevette was discovered in the Middletown Apartments parking lot the Monday after her disappearance, my Steward Manor friends and I knew about it before our parents did. Some of the “big kids” had been at the mall and witnessed the flurry of police activity across 4th Street. Some ventured close enough to see the blood—and they eagerly told us what they’d seen. They were convinced, as would soon be the police, that Stefanie wasn’t going to be found alive.

(Laurel Leader)

The gruesome drama seemed to be unfolding in three acts over the course of that summer: Stefanie’s disappearance and the grisly discovery of her car were acts one and two, respectively. The third and final act came on September 3rd, when police recovered partial skeletal remains—which they delicately conceded was only the head of the victim. That shocking find was made in the wooded area at the dead end of Larchdale Road—a location that would once again haunt me some four years later during yet another childhood summer job. I was a paperboy briefly for The Washington Post, and my pickup point was outside James H. Harrison Elementary—on Larchdale Road—at midnight. Few experiences before or since have unnerved me as much as sitting there alone in the dead of night under that fluorescent din, hurriedly stuffing newspapers into plastic bags less than 100 yards from where Stefanie Watson—her head, at least—had been found. Yes, Stefanie Watson crossed my mind quite often that year.

But then the years began to pass. Decades passed, in fact. As far as I knew, nothing else had ever come of the Stefanie Watson case. No one was ever charged with her murder; and worse, the rest of her body was never recovered. At some point during my research for Lost Laurel, the spectre of Stefanie Watson’s murder once again creeped into my mind.

Still curious after all this time, I began to search online for anything related to her case—news articles, updates, blog postings—anything. I was surprised to find only one single website that even mentioned Stefanie Watson—and despite best intentions, it had misspelled her name and stated the facts incorrectly.

A footnote buried deep within an online memorial page for Maryland homicide victims. Sadly, that was all that seemed to be left of Stefanie Watson. I found it hard to fathom that such a shocking crime could go so long without at least some kind of press coverage, especially when you stop to consider the almost Hollywood-like circumstances of her murder. On paper, the case reads like a James Ellroy novel: a beautiful, young blond woman fails to show up for her last night at work before leaving town… After going missing for nearly a week, her bloodstained car is found; and several weeks later, only a partial skull is recovered. There are no apparent suspects, no arrests, and the crime quickly falls into the cold case files. To put it even more bluntly, a woman is decapitated—in a peaceful, middle-class DC/Baltimore suburb, and this crime goes virtually unmentioned all this time? Are you kidding me? This should’ve been on CNN and on magazine covers across the country. Books should’ve been written about this.

Knowing that the 30th anniversary of Stefanie’s murder was approaching, I finally started looking into it in earnest myself.

I began by speaking to friends and acquaintances who remembered the events of 1982 at least as well as I do. Online, I was only able to find brief articles in the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun‘s archives, but a treasure trove came via the Laurel Leader on microfilm. There, on the analog monochrome screen at the Laurel Library, was the full weekly saga from July to September 1982. I was about to discover the Stefanie Watson case all over again—reading the details as they emerged that harrowing summer thirty years ago.

1. Who Was Stefanie Watson?

Before we get too far into this, let’s start by shedding some light on just who Stefanie was. Clearly more than just a face on a missing persons flyer, she was someone’s daughter, sister, friend, and colleague. She had also briefly been someone’s wife. By all accounts, she was a kind and gentle young woman. Her uncle, Wilhelm Mabius, remembered her as being “reserved, yet lighthearted and happy-go-lucky.”

She was born Stefanie Wilbert in Harrisburg, PA in 1955, and was 27 years old at the time of her disappearance. A graduate of Central Dauphin East High School in Harrisburg, Stefanie had also attended Harrisburg Community College. She came to the Washington, DC area to attend Columbia Union College (now Washington Adventist University) in Takoma Park in September 1981, and settled in Laurel after her brief marriage to W. Wayne Watson ended in separation. (Mr. Watson was quickly and definitively ruled out as a suspect).

Stefanie’s 1973 high school yearbook; the year she graduated.

Stefanie’s senior yearbook photo, 1973.

Stefanie’s first name was commonly misspelled, as her previous yearbook photo (1972) attests.

Stefanie held a number of jobs, working as a clerical typist and in a dentist office prior to becoming a night admitting clerk in the busy emergency room at Greater Laurel Beltsville Hospital—a job that she rightly considered much more than simply filling out insurance forms. Colleagues recalled that she never failed to console families of the sick and injured, bringing them coffee and allowing them the chance to talk about their anxiety and grief. One staff doctor noted the countless cases of “gratuitous and senseless violence” that the emergency room saw on any given night shift; and that Stefanie Watson was always “caring and concerned for all the people she met… ingenuous and never cynical,” even when patients or their families seemed undeserving of her patience and thoughtfulness.

In Laurel—the town experiencing a renaissance of sorts in 1981, with the recent opening of Laurel Centre Mall, the newly-restored Main Street, and the advent of the annual Main Street Festival—Stefanie found a place to heal the wounds of her broken relationship. She lived alone with a large dog at 304 8th Street, Apt. 1.—a short drive from her job at the hospital.

Stefanie’s apartment building today.

While Stefanie had worked there for nearly a year when she went missing, few of her hospital coworkers had gotten to know her particularly well. Still, it was these colleagues who created the missing person flyers, and with the cooperation and approval of Laurel Police, distributed them to practically every local business in sight. As they did so, a surprising number of people actually recognized Stefanie’s photo from her job at the hospital, and immediately recalled her kindness at times of their own personal crises.

Stefanie’s coworkers had given her a going-away party at the hospital on Wednesday, July 21st—the night before her disappearance. She had made the difficult decision to move to Fort Worth, Texas, where she was to begin working at the Medical Plaza Hospital on August 3rd. Stefanie’s relatives said that her decision to leave Maryland was made because she wanted to be closer to her brother and sister’s families, both of whom lived in Texas. She was also looking forward to getting to know her five young nieces and nephews, the youngest having been just six months old at the time.

Stefanie was planning to leave for Texas on Monday, July 26th. Instead, that would turn out to be the day that her blood-stained car would be found on Fourth Street.

2. Last Sightings

According to police reports, Stefanie was seen multiple times on Thursday, July 22nd—more than the Washington Post‘s report of her having last been spotted alive at the hospital that afternoon, when she picked up her paycheck.

(Washington Post. July 27, 1982, p.B2)

(Washington Post. July 31, 1982, p. B2)

In fact, the Laurel Leader later reported two additional key sightings as confirmed by police: one by a hospital coworker who saw Stefanie at a bank at Town Center Shopping Center on Route 197 and Contee Road that afternoon (perhaps depositing the paycheck she’d picked up earlier at either the Citizens National Bank or John Hanson Savings and Loan that were in the shopping center at that time); and the other, more crucial sighting—detectives established that she was actually last seen at 9:00 PM, leaving her apartment.

Whatever happened to Stefanie occurred that night, after 9:00 and before she was due to report to her final night shift at the hospital.

3. Murdered.

After six long weeks of speculation and angst, the worst fears of Stefanie Watson’s relatives, friends, and all of Laurel were confirmed. On Friday, September 3rd, police discovered “partial skeletal remains” in the wooded area at the dead end of Larchdale Road.

Initial reports stated only that it was a citizen who made the grisly discovery, and on Tuesday, September 7th,  the Maryland Medical Examiner’s office confirmed that the remains were indeed those of Stefanie Watson. Positive identification was made with dental records, according to then Laurel Police Lt. Archie Cook, who had headed the investigation to that point. He tactfully declined to elaborate on the physical condition of the remains, only to say that various television reports—likely about the partial skeletal remains being only the head—were unconfirmed.

(Washington Post. September 8, 1982, p. A26)

The discovery on Larchdale Road marked a transitional phase for the investigation, as Prince George’s County Police essentially took over the case. The crime scene was determined to be in an area of Laurel under county police jurisdiction. Sgt. Sherman Baxa of the Prince George’s County Homicide Unit credited Laurel Police for “Collect(ing) a tremendous amount of data”, and for cooperating with the P.G. County detectives as they assumed the reins of the investigation.

Sgt. Baxa later released some compelling information about the citizen who’d found the partial remains. He’d witnessed a man actually throwing them into the woods.

Baxa stated that the wooded area at the end of Larchdale Road had been used as a “dumping ground” for debris for some time, but the witness who found the remains had “observed an individual throwing something in the woods.” He said that the witness became curious, later walked over to the wooded area, and subsequently made the startling discovery. The witness was never publicly identified for obvious safety reasons, but it’s presumed that he was a resident of the nearby Larchdale Woods apartments (now known as “Parke Laurel”). Whether he happened to be walking by, in his car, or looking out a window wasn’t released; and while he couldn’t positively identify “the individual” he’d seen dumping “debris” in the wooded area, he’d provided police with even more critical information: he’d seen the car the suspect emerged from… and he’d seen a second man inside.

(Laurel Leader. September 16, 1982)

4. Meanwhile, thirty years later…

Let’s cut back to the present day, since it was only this year that I learned details I hadn’t previously known. As a child, I wasn’t even aware that a witness had seen the car, or that police had released a composite sketch of the man wanted for questioning—a man who never did turn up.

But going back to my initial curiosity, and first asking old friends about what they recalled from the case, it was something that one of the “big kids” (a term we still use for those in the neighborhood who were a few years older than my little clique) said that I found particularly compelling. Mark Nelson, who lived upstairs in my building at Steward Manor in the 1980s, recently told me, “I’d heard somebody say that the guy who killed Stefanie Watson was the same guy who killed Adam Walsh.”

The notion that the same man who’d murdered little Adam Walsh the previous year—all the way down in Hollywood, Florida—sounded like a long shot at best… Until I started looking more closely at just who that man actually was. And when comparing these new bits of information to those old Laurel Leader articles, I actually got chills.

Adam Walsh, 1981.

On July 27, 1981—almost exactly one year before Stefanie Watson’s murder—6-year-old Adam Walsh was with his mother at the Sears store in their local Hollywood Mall. Like any young boy in 1981, Adam was fascinated by an Atari video game display being played by a small group of older kids. Reve Walsh innocently left her son to briefly watch the gamers play while she inquired about a lamp just a few aisles away. In the seven minutes she was gone, a Sears security guard responded to bickering amongst the kids by making them all exit the store—including little Adam, who instinctively followed the guard’s orders (and the other children) and exited the nearest door. In that precise moment, Ottis Toole was in the parking lot, just looking for someone like Adam. And unfortunately, he found him.

Ottis Toole mugshot, 1983.

Adam was allegedly lured into the stranger’s borrowed Cadillac with promises of toys and candy. Toole, a deviant drifter already convicted of a slew of bizarre and brutal crimes, confessed to abducting the boy with the intent of simply “keeping him” as his own. But when Adam began to cry and panic while driving north along Interstate 95, Toole punched the boy into unconsciousness. Changing plans, he drove the car onto a deserted service road, where he claimed to have strangled Adam to death before decapitating him with a machete he kept under the front seat. On August 10, 1981, a pair of fishermen discovered Adam’s head in a Vero Beach, Florida canal. The rest of his remains have never been recovered, leading credence to Toole’s claim that he incinerated the boy’s body in an old refrigerator.

Despite Toole’s initial confession as early as 1983, Hollywood police bungled the investigation—inexplicably losing Toole’s impounded car… and the machete. It wasn’t until nearly 25 years later, after an independent investigation by Det. Sgt. Joe Matthews at the behest of John and Reve Walsh, that police finally, officially closed the case—naming Ottis Toole as the murderer. While researching evidence files, Matthews had discovered rolls of film—photos taken by crime scene investigators and evidence technicians—that had never even been developed. These photos, when processed, turned out to include chilling, detailed images of the missing Cadillac. One set of photos was particularly damning, as it documented a large presence of blood on the floorboard of the driver’s seat and the carpet behind it—where Toole claimed to have callously tossed Adam’s head before discarding it in the canal. “Traced in the blue glow of Luminol was the outline of a familiar young boy’s face, a negative pressed into floorboard carpeting, eye sockets blackened blank cavities, mouth twisted in an oval of pain,” an excerpt from Matthews’ book reads. After an exhaustive review of the “new” evidence, Hollywood Police formally charged Ottis Toole with the crime in December 2008, and apologized to the Walsh family for the long, painful journey they had endured to that point.

But there’s much more to the Ottis Toole story than just the murder of Adam Walsh. Especially when it comes to his relationship with the even more notorious serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas.

Henry Lee Lucas first met Ottis Toole in line at a soup kitchen in Jacksonville, Florida in 1976. But before joining up with his frequent traveling partner, lover, and confidant, Lucas—a diagnosed psychopath—had already killed before. His first murder, in 1960, was that of his own mother.

Henry Lee Lucas

Lucas was released from prison in 1970 due to overcrowding, but by 1971 he landed in a Michigan penitentiary for the attempted kidnapping of a teenaged girl and for violating his parole by carrying a gun. From there, he was released in August 1975, and took a bus to Perryville, Maryland, where he had a half-sister named Almeda Kiser. He spent the next few years as a hopeless drifter, occasionally working odd construction and mechanical jobs, but unable to work steadily. In 1975, he briefly settled in Port Deposit, Maryland—marrying a woman named Betty Crawford. But within two years, Betty accused Lucas of molesting her two daughters, and he left for Florida—setting the stage for what many believe to be one of the longest serial killing sprees in the annals of American crime.

(Washington Post. October 27, 1983, p. A6)

Beginning in 1978, Lucas and Toole embarked on a series of cross-country murder sprees. Lucas would later claim that during this period he had killed hundreds of people, with Toole assisting him in “108 murders,” by his estimation. Lucas stated that his preferred victims were young white females; Toole preferred men. Their methods of operation included everything from stabbing, shooting, strangulation, and beating to mutilations—with Lucas having been known to decapitate victims and carry body parts with him across state lines on different occasions.

Lucas and Toole went their separate ways on multiple occasions—most notably when the bisexual Henry would “run off” with Toole’s own teenaged niece, Becky Powell—whose murder he would eventually be charged with as well. It was during one of these rare solo periods in 1981 when Ottis Toole murdered young Adam Walsh. Lucas, coincidentally was imprisoned in Pikesville, Maryland between July and October 1981; and as soon as he was released on October 7th, he traveled to Jacksonville, Florida to reteam with Ottis Toole.

Ottis Toole and Henry Lee Lucas, photo booth print c.1982.

When traveling together, Henry and Ottis were virtually untraceable, making erratic treks from coast to coast. Lucas, on record, later confirmed to Texas prosecutors that in September 1982 alone, the pair had been through Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Oklahoma… and Maryland.

Criminal profilers in various states found themselves stumped at the lack of motive and pattern in some particularly brutal crimes, as was certainly the case with the Stefanie Watson murder. Serial killers, it was commonly believed, usually work alone. The utter randomness of these crimes was virtually unprecedented, especially when they occurred in small communities.

Lucas was arrested in Texas on June 11, 1983, initially for unlawful firearm possession. He was later charged with killing 82-year-old Kate Rich, with whom he briefly stayed as a boarder, as well as the earlier stabbing death of Ottis Toole’s niece, Becky Powell. While in custody, Henry Lee began to confess to numerous other murders, as well—frequently detailing victims and crime scenes that only the killer(s) would have known. Unfortunately, he also confessed to scores of murders that he couldn’t have committed. Enjoying the extra attention warranted someone who boasts of having killed hundreds—even thousands—of people, Lucas seemingly began copping to any and all unsolved cases presented to him. He would then recant confessions just as frequently, further baffling prosecutors.

In November 1983, the “Lucas Task Force” was created in Williamson County, Texas, for the purpose of coordinating with police agencies across the country. So vast and wide were Henry’s claims, that Texas authorities gave out-of-state detectives the opportunity to interview Lucas for their own cases. One of those agencies, I’ve learned, was Prince George’s County Homicide.

Meanwhile, Ottis Toole was finally behind bars himself. Initially arrested for arson, (Toole was also an admitted pyromanic—or “powerful maniac”, as he believed was the correct term) it was a jailhouse tip from Henry Lee Lucas that shined a more sinister light on his onetime partner. In April 1984, Toole was convicted and sentenced to death in Jacksonville for the murder of 64-year-old George Sonnenberg—whom Toole had barricaded into his own home before setting the house on fire—a crime he’d committed back in January 1982. He was also found guilty of the February 1983 strangulation murder of 19-year-old Silvia Rogers, a Tallahassee, Florida resident, and received a second death sentence. On appeal, however, both sentences were commuted to life in prison.

Back in Texas, the Lucas Task Force investigation was well under way throughout 1984, when it began to receive criticism for becoming “a veritable clearinghouse of unsolved murder.” In fact, Police officially “cleared” 213 previously unsolved murders via Lucas’ confessions. Speaking out of the proverbial other side of his mouth, however, Lucas claimed that he confessed only because doing so improved his prison living conditions—and because he received preferential treatment rarely offered to convicts. It was at this time that Vic Feazell, an ambitious young District Attorney in Waco, Texas, launched a large scale investigation into the veracity of Lucas’ confessions. The result was the “Lucas Report”, an extensive timeline documenting the confirmed travel movements of Henry Lee Lucas (and Ottis Toole) that conclusively disproved many of Lucas’ confessions. In a typical instance, the report showed Lucas cashing checks in Florida while at the same time confessing to a murder in Texas.

Vic Feazell and Henry Lee Lucas (Photo: vicfeazell.com)

But ironically, it’s Feazell’s timeline that may actually implicate Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole in one of the few murders that they didn’t confess to—the Stefanie Watson murder.

Feazell’s timeline shows no record of Lucas’ whereabouts during July 1982—the time when Stefanie Watson was killed. It does, however, document several of Lucas’ travels throughout Maryland.

The report includes grim information about Lucas’ methods, which clearly match the Stefanie Watson murder profile.

Take a closer look at that first page—the timeline of travel movements. Did you notice anything else particularly interesting in regard to Stefanie Watson? Remember the vehicle the witness reported having seen on Larchdale Road that night? It was described as “a 1975 to 1978 Ford LTD, medium to dark green body with a green vinyl roof.” According to multiple entries in Vic Feazell’s notes, Lucas purchased a 1973 Ford LTD on January 9, 1982:

One note mentions it having been a brown car. Whether it was or not, it’s fairly easy to imagine a brown 1973 Ford LTD being mistaken for green in the darkness on Larchdale Road.

And the 1973 model did offer the darker vinyl top, a distinctive feature that the witness pointed out. What do you think? Could a 1973 Ford LTD be mistaken for a 1975-78 model?

With all these things considered, let me go ahead and spell this out completely. What are the odds that the two men seen driving the Ford LTD that night were NOT Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole?

Could it really just be some amazing coincidence, and that two other guys—one of whom eerily fits the description of the 6’1, 195 lb. Ottis Toole—just happened to be driving an equally similar Ford LTD, and tossed a severed head out into a wooded area? The unique and horrific profile of this murder matches that of Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, who were known to have been traveling together through Maryland at that time, in that vehicle. It can’t be a coincidence.

What initially sounded implausible at best now strikes me as the almost certain answer to the question that has haunted Laurelites for the past three decades: who killed Stefanie Watson?


Back in March, I contacted Laurel Police in hopes of finally learning the basics of this case, and separating the facts from the many rumors I’d heard as a child. Most importantly, I wanted to find out if in fact the case was still open—and hadn’t been quietly solved at some point over the last several years. I explained that I was writing a piece for Lost Laurel on the approaching 30th anniversary of the murder, in the context of the countless Laurel businesses—most now gone—that had spread the word about this horrific crime.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Chief of Police Richard McLaughlin, who confirmed that the case was indeed still open to the best of his knowledge; he also confirmed that Prince George’s County assumed control of the case when the partial remains were discovered.

I wasn’t surprised to learn from Chief McLaughlin that all of the original investigators have since retired, but I was surprised (and flattered) to find out that he was familiar with Lost Laurel! He was also kind enough to not only encourage me to follow up with Prince George’s County Homicide’s Cold Case Unit, he even told me what to say when I called. (I had explained that “investigative journalism” isn’t something I do regularly; and despite the seriousness of all this, I actually had to pinch myself to realize that I wasn’t in an episode of Law and Order or The First 48. Having the chance to talk to the Chief of Police of one’s hometown about said town’s most notorious unsolved crime can tend to make one geek out. But I digress.)

Over the next week, I spoke to Sgt. Rick Fulginiti and Det. David Morissette, both of Prince George’s County Homicide. As I did with Chief McLaughlin, I introduced the project and carefully pointed out that I was only nine years old at the time of the murder I was inquiring about, less I suddenly become a suspect myself. Sgt. Fulginiti confirmed that the case was indeed still open, and active. And when Det. Morissette began explaining just a few of the general points that their Cold Case Unit has been investigating, I immediately got the sense that I hadn’t uncovered anything that Prince George’s County detectives didn’t already know. (Go figure). In fact, the very first name Det. Morissette mentioned was that of Henry Lee Lucas.

He confirmed that in 1984, Prince George’s County had indeed sent a team of investigators to Texas to participate in the Lucas Task Force questioning. While their suspicions have always lied with Lucas, they simply weren’t able to conclusively connect him to the crime. Apparently, their visit occurred during a rare moment when Lucas wasn’t in a confessing mood.

Nonetheless, Det. Morissette had some interesting new news to report, and it could be big: his office has “several new items for DNA testing,” and “has been in recent contact” with Stefanie’s family.

Wanting to make sure I wouldn’t only be spreading more rumors and misinformation about this tragedy, I essentially sought an off-the-record endorsement for the conclusion that I’d surprisingly come to on my own. Det. Morissette simply encouraged me to write this piece exactly as I’d planned, adding that it could even jog some long-suppressed memories, or prompt someone to finally come forward with details that they just weren’t ready to share over the past three decades.

So what comes next? Nothing will bring Stefanie back, obviously; and is any of this relevant—particularly since Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole won’t be here to face any charges that might be brought?

Ottis Toole died of liver failure on September 15, 1996. He was 49. Fortunately for society, he had been wasting away in a Florida prison since April 1983—a mere seven months after that witness on Larchdale Road spotted someone who looked awfully like him discarding something in the woods. He was buried in the Florida State Prison Cemetery when no one—relatives or otherwise—would claim his body.

Henry Lee Lucas, likewise, enjoyed only brief freedom after Stefanie Watson’s murder. Locked away in a Texas prison since June 1983, he died of heart failure at age 64 on March 12, 2001.

Stefanie’s complete remains have never been recovered. She has yet to receive a proper burial, or a permanent resting place. There was a memorial service for her, however, shortly after the identification was made. According to Pastor Arthur Mayer, almost 100 people filled the small Seventh Day Adventist Church in Laurel that September afternoon. And there would’ve been more. Originally scheduled for 7:00 PM, Stefanie’s family decided at the last moment to change the time to early afternoon, so her co-workers from the hospital night shift could attend. For many, including the press, news of the change in time came too late.

The hospital also honored Stefanie’s memory with a brief, but moving service attended by almost 60 members of the medical staff, plus friends and family. In a fitting tribute to the young woman who’d comforted so many worried patients there, the family room of the Greater Laurel Beltsville Hospital’s emergency room was officially dedicated to Stefanie Watson.

On September 11th, (a day that would have its own nefarious connection to Laurel 19 years later) the Washington Post ran an obituary column:

If police were to posthumously charge Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole with this murder, perhaps it could bring some long-overdue measure of closure to Stefanie’s family, the way it did for John and Reve Walsh. It could also hopefully bring the memory of the real Stefanie Watson back to the public eye, reminding us that hers was a life worth remembering, rather than just the brutality with which it ended. Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, if indeed guilty, should finally be identified and held responsible for this horrific crime; and then they should be forgotten.

***

There are a number of people I need to thank for being able to share this story: Laurel Chief of Police Richard McLaughlin, for his time and encouragement; Sgt. Rick Fulginiti and Det. David Morissette of Prince George’s County Homicide, for also taking the time and making the effort to review and share a case that predates their own careers. Most importantly, the writers and editors of the Laurel Leader who originally documented this terrible event between July and September 1982—most notably Karen Yengich, Gill Chamblin, and photographer Doug Kapustin. I’m sure there were more, but unfortunately, not all stories were afforded a byline. Last but not least, the Laurel Library, for continuing to house the only known complete microfilm archive of the Laurel Leader, despite obvious space restrictions. A city’s history is literally recorded in its newspapers—please don’t ever let that archive disappear.

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