When Robert Arnold Jarrett petitioned the Howard County Circuit Court in 1996 to declare his long-missing wife dead, one of the major reasons he gave for why she hadn't just run away from their Elkridge home was that she was "a devoted mother" to their two sons.
Not even the "marital difficulties" the couple was having in 1991 — when Christine Ann Jarrett, 34, went missing — would have caused her to break off contact with their boys, he said in his petition.
On Thursday, Howard County Police seemed to confirm that Christine Jarrett had never run away when they announced they'd arrested Robert Jarrett for her murder after finding what they believe to be her remains, buried in concrete under the floorboards of a shed in the couple's Claire Drive backyard.
Police said they had always suspected foul play in her disappearance, but had recently received information that "reinforced the possibility," and were given permission to search the home by Robert Jarrett's current wife, from whom he is separated and who lives in the home.
Details about the new information and how police received it remain unclear.
But multiple documents in the court record of Jarrett's 1996 petition — which Judge Lenore Gelfman granted in 1998 by declaring the date of his wife's death as June 10, 1993 — shine some light on the mind set of the police and Christine Jarrett's family and friends following her disappearance.
The documents show a family with mixed opinions on her whereabouts and detail allegations she'd been abused by her husband and that he had a financial motive for wanting her declared dead.
Husband's account indicated search
The petition also includes Robert Jarrett's account of what happened the night of Jan. 3, 1991, the last time his wife was seen. That account went as follows:
Robert Jarrett had come home from work at about 8 p.m. to find that his wife of 16 years and their two sons — who were 10 and 5 years old — had already eaten dinner, so he reheated his own dinner.
His wife was on the phone on and off, but after the boys went to sleep, the couple went into their basement — they'd lived there since August of 1983 — to watch television.
At 9:30 p.m., his wife went upstairs and he fell asleep in the basement. At midnight, he went upstairs to go to sleep, locked the doors, and then noticed the garage door was open. He went upstairs and his wife wasn't in bed.
The couple's two sons "were asleep in their beds and apparently unaware that anything was wrong."
The couple was having "marital difficulties," and his wife had left the home for a night or two before, so he went to sleep without searching for her.
The next morning she was still gone, and when her two sisters called, as they often did, he told them he didn't know where she was. They became alarmed. He called other family members. The next day, he reported her missing to police.
Jarrett went to five area motels — Econolodge, Terrace, White Elk, Tip Top and Executive — but did not find her. He thought she had taken "some money and her purse, and little or no clothing except for what she was wearing."
He wasn't aware she had any other "boyfriend, paramour, or other romantic interest."
He spoke with neighbors, and one, Marcia Lynn Neidhardt, told him his wife had mentioned running away, but hadn't seemed serious about it.
As the years rolled on, nothing turned up. He filed for and was granted a divorce in 1993, and also received full custody of their two sons.
Family and friends raised questions
In a five-page police report, Det. Elsworth Jones wrote that he had a meeting with multiple members of Christine Jarrett's family in 1997, prior to a hearing in the petition case, and that they had "differed on the opinion" of her whereabouts.
"Some believed she was deceased and others believed she was still living," Jones wrote.
Jones said Jarrett's brother, Will Wilson, thought she might be staying with a friend named Cindy, who lived in North Carolina but had previously lived on Old Washington Boulevard.
Jones said he interviewed the woman, Cindy Travis, at Gelfman's request, and Travis told him Robert Jarrett had called her after his wife's disappearance and said that "he and Christine had a bad fight" before he fell asleep in the basement.
Jones said Travis' husband, Raymond Travis, told him that Christine Jarrett "was real protective of her kids and would not have left them," but that "she would have left if it were not for the kids."
Neidhardt, in a letter to Gelfman asking to be pardoned from appearing in court, painted a similar picture.
Neidhardt, who records show still lives across the street but who could not be reached for comment, wrote that Christine "Chris" Jarrett had been one of her best friends since 1984, when Neidhardt and her husband moved to Claire Drive.
"Along with many others, I have dearly missed my friend and cannot imagine what would make such a decent friend, good mother, and devoted wife and homemaker leave her home unannounced," Neidhardt wrote. "I never did understand Chris's devotion as Mr. Robert Jarrett's wife because he was not devoted or nice (as in physical and verbal abuse) to her on many occasions."
Neidhart said Christine Jarrett had hinted that she wanted to run away a month before she'd gone missing, but "with her sense of humor and her venting personality," Neidhardt hadn't taken the comment seriously.
Neidhardt said she thought Robert Jarrett had a "financial motive" for wanting his wife declared dead, a declaration she said was "completely wrong without a body for proof."
Neidhardt said Robert Jarrett had "stated on several occasions that he had every reason to believe" that his wife would be found "alive and well," and she wondered why he'd changed his mind.
Neidhardt called her friend's disappearance "emotionally taxing" and receiving a subpoena "to aid in declaring her legally dead emotionally uprooting."
Money left behind
The petition also listed "the property in which Christine Ann Jarrett has an interest in" as a 1978 Pontiac and a 1987 Sunsport Motor Home she owned with her husband; their home; a life insurance policy worth $25,000 and with her husband listed as her beneficiary; and an annuity worth $43,000, with her estate listed as the beneficiary.
It also says that Christine Jarrett had executed her last will and testament on May 4, 1988, naming her husband as the sole heir to her estate.
The annuity involved one payment she had already received, as well as regular payments every five years starting in 1995 until the money ran out, with the Traveler's Insurance Company.
According to Salvatore Anello, an Arbutus attorney, the annuity was awarded to Christine Jarrett as part of a worker's compensation claim in which Anello was her attorney.
Jarrett's arm had been injured while working on a production line at the Calvert Distillery, Anello said.
Upon being told by a reporter Thursday that her body had likely been found, Anello shouted, "They found her? They found her?"
He'd gotten to know Christine Jarrett well as a nice, soft-spoken woman who was easy to talk to, and he'd always been suspicious of her disappearance, he said.
"The story made no sense at all. She was a devoted mother. I met with her many times. She always talked about those boys," he said. "I never believed she would desert her boys. She was crazy about those boys."
Anello said the annuity money waiting for her was another reason he questioned her disappearance, especially after she didn't return in 1995 to claim the second allotment.
"Everyone felt that if she were alive, she would have materialized for that money, because it was like $10,000, but she never showed up," he said.
Anello had always questioned Robert Jarrett's story, he said, but never more so than when Jarrett's attorney, James F. Brewer contacted Anello about the annuity and Jarrett's hope to collect on it by having his wife declared dead.
"I'll tell you this: It took a lot of nerve," Anello said of Robert Jarrett's actions.
Anello said he always thought Christine Jarrett would be found, but now that she apparently has been, and on the grounds of the house, he has more questions.
"It's surprising the boys didn't know anything," he said of the couple's two sons, now both adults, "because that's a major operation, putting someone in a cement block under a shed."
Robert Jarrett is being held without bail at the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup on charges of first-degree and second-degree murder.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun