Annie McCann's mystery

Daniel and his wife Mary Jane McCann had their news conference this morning in which they pleaded for help in finding out how their daughter ended up in dead in Baltimore after running away from her Alexandria, Va., home.

I've detailed this case in columns today and yesterday and I won't go over it all again here. I've included the family's statement below that summarizes the case and their concerns.

Annie ran away from home on Friday, Oct. 31 (she was last seen around 6:40 that morning) and was found dead near a trash bin at the Perkins Homes housing project on South Spring Court in Southeast Baltimore about 3 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 2. She died of an overdose of lidocaine from drinking a 5-ounce bottle of Bactine, which her mother had given her for her newly pierced ears. The Medical Examiner has ruled the case undetermined -- neither a homicide nor a suicide, putting it in a strange netherworld, and adding further mystery.

After four months, the McCanns are frustrated that the investigation has slowed -- it is now assigned to the Cold Case Squad -- given the number of murders being investigated in Baltimore.

In fact the president of the New York-based private investigative firm the couple hired, John Cutter of Beau Dietl & Associates, said that everyone who looks at the case assumes suicide and "keeps pushing it back" to be dealt with later or not at all.

"They will accept whatever the findings are," Cutter told me after the news conference. "But what they are saying is that, 'Don't tell me they don't know.' We were not hired to solve Annie's death. We were hired to solve the mystery of what happened to Annie from the time she left her house unitl the time her body was found. There are a myraid of unanswered questions that need more basic investigative steps to answer. This is one of the most mysterious and unusual cases. It has a lot of twists and turns."

I'll summarize key points that the family believes should be investigated further and why they don't think their daughter committed suicide, at least by herself. In the end, it may very well be that Annie took her own life, or had help, or met a predator, but they feel there are too many details have yet to be thoroughly investigated to simply say suicide and walk away.

Some of what follows differs a little from details offered in my columns (some new information emerged at the news conference):

Annie left one note on her bed in which she said she had thought about commiting suicide but had changed her mind, wanted to live and to be free. She took $1,000, her cell phone, iPod Touch, jewelry, a box of Cheerios and clothes packed in a trunk with her when she left in the family's white Volvo sedan.

Other notes were found in her bedroom, crumpled up and crossed out, none of which Cutter said "directly indicated suicide" though suicide was the central theme. Cutter described these notes as "drafts" and all were addressed to her friends, none to her parents, which whom she was close. Did she indeed change her mind?

On either the Friday or Saturday afternoon before her body was found, Cutter said two clerks in Vaccaro's in Little Italy. She ordered a connolli and a latte and was with another girl, about 17, with long black hair who looked Italian. The McCanns are searching for the girl Annie was seen with and have hired a sketch artist.

On Sunday morning, about 3 a.m., a man taking out his garbage found her body next to a trash bin. The white Volvo was found five blocks away at a Citgo gas station, an empty bottle of Bactine under a seat; the cap outside. More notes were found, similar to the ones crossed out that were found in her house. Police lifted a fingerprint from the car and found a teen-ager, 16, from Perkins Homes who we learned today has given conflicting accounts

He told police that he saw a white male with a goatee drive up in the car, abandon it and that he saw the body inside the back seat. Annie was lying face down, wet, her shoes and socks missing, the bottom of her feet clean. The youth told police he and three friends moved body to the trash bin and then took the for a joy ride. But Cutter said his investigators talked to the youth and he said the man with the goatee was one of his friends who drove up in the car and asked for help moving what he described as a mannequin.

Police have confirmed the above account, only to say her body wasn't quite face down in the back. But why was it wet? Where are her shoes? Her phone is missing (the teen told police he threw it away); but so is her iTouch and the $1,000 she took when she ran away. Cutter and the McCanns say Baltimore police didn't press hard enough to question the kids, especially after their stories didn't match. Police tell me they've only talked to the one youth; two others are known only by their nicknames or initials. Cutter said the father of the fourth youth has refused to let his son cooperate. Should the youth who is talking be pressed to talk more or threatened with criminal charges? (He did move a body, fail to report a crime scene, tampered with evidence and stole a car.)

Cutter said the FBI has the family computer and Annie's laptop but have yet to search the hard-drives for clues as to what web sites Annie was visiting or emails she may have sent or received.

There were 10 calls placed from Annie's phone in the days before she ran away. All have been accounted for but two, Cutter told me. One was to a man with no connection to Annie but appears to have been a wrong number; the man told investigators he frequently got wrong numbers and if Annie was trying to reach somebody else, authorites haven't figured out who it might be.

The second phone call is more interesting. Cutter said it was traced to a woman's cell phone. They found her address and police went there but were sent away. Cutter said his investigators went to the house, in Northern Virginia, and it was answered by a man with a drug record who refused to answer his door. Cutter said the man was filming his investigators as they stood at the door. This lead too hasn't been pressed further.

The McCanns have four billboards up around town for the next two weeks seeking information and hope to have a sketch out soon. Metro Crime Stoppers is offering a $10,000 reward -- $2,000 from the organization and the rest from the McCanns. Cutter went on the Ed Norris show this morning. 

The answer they seek may be painful, but they want to know how their daughter died and why. They've question whether police have pressed hard enough for answers or just did the basic work, shrugging it off as a suicide. They say they had a hard time getting a sketch artist because the police discouraged those they hired from working the case (police say it was a miscommunication and has been resolved) and had a hard time getting Metro Crime Stoppers to put up the reward.

I talked to the lead detective, Sean P. Jones, and the commander of the Baltimore Police Department's homicide unit, Maj. Terrence McLarney, on Friday. Details from their interview are in the columns cited above. They disagreed only on small details, such as positioning of Annie's body, but said they've worked the case hard. Two city police spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi and Troy Harris, stood in the back of McCann's news conference but would only say after that the case remains under investigation, that no lead is too small for someone to ignore, and he urged people call with any tips.

Guglielmi hugged Mary Jane McCann at the end. The McCanns statement:

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