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West Towson man recalls unscripted ending to tale of terror and attack

ShootingsMoviesScott ShellenbergerJohn Wayne

The events that conspired to put a bullet in George Stover's neck in the basement of his West Towson home early this year were straight out of his beloved crime dramas and horror movies — a terrifying 20 minutes that, ultimately, ended up with the bad guy behind bars for life.

But in the days, weeks and months since Stover sustained his nonfatal gunshot wound, it hasn't been the crime shows he's turned to, but the Westerns of his youth.

Stover, himself a cult film regular who has appeared in several Johns Waters' films, saw a certain cheapness of life demonstrated by the heroes and villains he grew up watching in films. Some people died of bullet wounds and others, as he did, staggered upstairs, shut the front door, called the law and got on with life.

"If John Wayne could look down from heaven, he'd say 'George, what are you — a lily-livered coward?' " Stover asked this week, dropping into an impeccable Wayne impersonation. " 'You got a yella streak down your back. He just nicked you.' "

Luckily, the bullet fired at close range at the back of his head did just nick him — Stover said it was just a flesh wound that missed bone, muscle and arteries alike.

But that didn't matter to Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Robert Cahill Jr., who on Nov. 20, sentenced Bradford Steven Holup, 50, of Baltimore, to life in prison without the possibility of parole after Holup pleaded guilty to attempted murder for Stover's shooting.

This week, recounting the events surrounding the shooting, Stover recalled that late in the evening of Feb. 26, he was watching the 11 o'clock news and an episode of the crime show, "Criminal Minds," at a friend's house in Perry Hall.

While Stover was out, Holup was in his home — actually returning to the scene of a January 2011 burglary, for which Stover said Holup later confessed. This time, the burglar found the first floor windows had been either barred or reinforced, so he climbed atop Stover's side porch, and in through an upstairs window.

Holup was waiting on the stairs when Stover walked in. Stover recalled that the intruder immediately asked to be led to the safe. Stover retrieved money and said he talked with Holup a little as well.

Holup asked Stover his name, then told Stover his own name was George as well.

"Of course," Stover said, "that was a lie."

At one point, Holup ordered Stover to sit in a chair, and to show he wasn't kidding, fired his gun at another chair in Stover's living room. The bullet holes in the cushion are still evident.

Stover then recalled the most chilling part of the encounter. Before Holup made his exit, the intruder wanted to lock up his victim ... somewhere.

None of the doors had locks, so Holup settled for stashing him in the basement. Stover couldn't make out exactly what his shooter said as he led him to the stairs, but remembered a nasty tone in his voice.

He was near the bottom of the steps when Holup fired his gun, shooting him from behind.

He didn't fall forward. Stover said he slumped into the wall as he reached for something to hold on to.

Holup took his keys and tried to leave in Stover's red Cadillac, which was parked in the driveway. But he didn't have the key to the club lock, and fled on foot instead.

Meanwhile, apparently left for dead, Stover walked up the stairs, shut the front door, and called police. They were at his house in a matter of moments, he said, perhaps a benefit of heavy deployment on weekend nights in Towson.

Officers cut off Stover's sweater and shirt to check his wound and stabilize him, and a three-hour manhunt ensued in the surrounding neighborhood. He said officers checked the woods around his home and the Towson Family Center Y property, and canvassed his home for evidence.

At around 4 a.m., an officer saw a man running for a waiting Chevy Lumina near the corner of Bosley Avenue and Chesapeake Avenue. Holup got in the car and was arrested after a traffic stop.

Detectives were still at Stover's house when he returned home from a 12-hour hospital visit. In the ensuing days, Stover said he likened his life to that of someone who hit Powerball. News of the crime — and the circumstance of surviving a shot to the back of the neck — traveled fast, and far.

"I had to take my phone off the hook for a couple of weeks because, you see, I don't have a secretary or personal assistant," he joked. "I couldn't have gotten anything done. Everyone you ever knew is calling."

People reached out on Facebook, sent emails and instant messages and delivered notes. One neighbor dropped off a cake, and though Stover wrote a thank you note, he's still not entirely sure who they are.

The shooting made particular waves in the local film community, in part because of Stover's roles in the early films of Baltimore film icon Waters' early films. A retired state employee, Stover has found time to appear in 59 movies, including local low-budget sci-fi and horror guru Don Dohler's "Blood Massacre" and Waters' "Female Trouble" and "Hairspray."

Stover had reached out to Waters, with whom he shared a homeroom at Towsontown Junior High in eighth grade, after seeing Waters lament in a news story that he couldn't find actors to play, "teacher and parents and normal looking people."

Stover took acting classes in college and was acting in local plays at the time, but his first role in "Female Trouble" led to a small bit of renown in Waters' larger cultural glow.

"I did these low-budget movies, but I had a day job," he said.

Waters tried to call Stover after the shooting, though he settled for a postcard when he couldn't get through.

Recently, Stover took up an acting role again, in "The Bone Garden," a gory horror movie that was filmed at the Lutherville home of a pair of Towson University professors.

Stover said the fake blood and guts and violence on set didn't disturb him at all. Nor did the idea that he still lived in the house that was burglarized twice by the man who shot him, though he has beefed up his security, he said.

Again, he cited his love of film for helping him move on. In the pictures he loves so much, people don't cry or seek counseling after catching a bullet.

So why would he?

While Stover heaped praise on police and emergency responders, as well as the prosecutors who handled his case, his only bitterness from the situation is directed at the state's correctional system.

According to a release from State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger's office, Stover's shooting was the fourth violent crime conviction for Holup. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1983 for second-degree rape, and was out on parole in 1990 when he was convicted of assault with intent to kill in Baltimore City.

Holup was sentenced to 25 years without parole in 1996 for an armed robbery in Baltimore County, but was released on Sept. 29, 2010.

"A lot of people asked me. 'How come this guy is out?' " Stover said. "It seems to me the liberal parole board is a little too forgiving of people.

"I'm all for second chances … but what happened to three strikes and you're out?" he asked. "I was kind of surprised that someone with his record was paroled so many times."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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