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Police chase lead on Vi Ripken kidnapping to dead end

Justice SystemKidnappingViolet RipkenCal Ripken

Detectives in Aberdeen received a tip they hoped would be their big break: A prisoner seeking leniency said he knew the man who abducted the mother of Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr.

But nearly nine months after the bizarre kidnapping, no suspect has been identified and police still don't know of a motive in the case, in which Violet R. Ripken was taken from her home by an unknown assailant and safely returned nearly 24 hours later.

Michael Wayne Molitor claimed last year to know what happened and gave police a name; in return, police helped persuade a judge to grant him bail after a string of drug offenses. But after several weeks of detective work to follow up on that tip, detectives came to a dead end and now say Molitor wasted their time.

Molitor, a 41-year-old Port Deposit man, is back in prison on a probation violation. And the investigation into the Ripken kidnapping continues.

Police say they are actively searching for answers in Ripken's kidnapping from her modest white vinyl-sided home on a quiet Aberdeen street where she raised her children with her late husband, longtime Orioles coach and manager Cal Ripken Sr. The tips continue to come in, but not as frequently, and the Molitor case underscores the difficulty in sifting through the information.

Dave Henninger, a Bel Air-based criminal lawyer who represented Molitor, said his client was just passing along information he had heard. And it's possible the lead may still prove valuable, he said.

"You don't want a case to turn cold," he said. "When it goes cold, it's not on anybody's mind, leads dry up and it's harder to solve."

Detectives have released few details on the abduction.

The suspect, a medium-build white man seen in surveillance video from an Anne Arundel County Walmart, forced Ripken at gunpoint into her 1998 Lincoln Town Car after hiding in her garage, according to authorities. He tied her up, drove her around Central Maryland and dropped her off, unharmed, less than half a mile from her home.

The Ripken family declined Friday through a spokesman to comment on the case.

"At this time, the case is still active," said Aberdeen police Detective John Divel.

Divel, the lead detective on the case, said officers did chase down the Molitor tip. They looked through phone records, caught up with the alleged suspect in Pennsylvania and researched his record. The man Molitor claimed was the kidnapper was an old accomplice with whom Molitor had had a falling out, Divel said.

"We take every tip that comes in seriously, and we work it to the fullest," Divel said.

But when the information didn't prove helpful, Divel testified against Molitor during his probation violation hearing last week, when he was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison for failing a drug test and failing to report to his probation officer.

The detective warned would-be tipsters: "If it turns out to be bogus, you're going to get prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Henninger said he has no reason to believe Molitor "simply fabricated" the allegation. He said that Molitor was beaten up by people who may have been associated with the alleged suspect for telling police what he'd heard.

"When Mr. Molitor passed it along, he thought it was true," Henninger said. "He passed along what he had heard, which is sometimes very good information on the street, and sometimes it's not very good information."

Doug Colbert, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law, said the Ripken case has left the community uneasy, especially because there has been no resolution. The case has proved equally frustrating for police, he said, because they must rely on citizen informants while also being wary of their motivation and veracity.

"In the law, any type of a citizen's tip must be examined to see if the information is reliable and if the informant is credible," Colbert said.

"Many citizens will cooperate and provide information because that's part of being an involved citizen," he added, "but when someone is asking for law enforcement's help on their own criminal cases, that's immediately reason to give the highest scrutiny."

Given the amount of time that has passed since Ripken was kidnapped, the family and police should consider increasing the $2,000 reward that's been offered, Colbert said.

"A reward can generate leads, particularly in a troubled economy," Colbert said. "If you want to generate more citizens' involvement, often money becomes the incentive, but great care has to be exercised. Credibility is key."

Divel testified at Molitor's probation violation hearing April 3 in Harford County Circuit Court before Judge Angela M. Eaves, who sentenced Molitor to nearly seven years in prison.

Molitor tested positive for a cocktail of illegal drugs on July 20, 2011, failed to report to any subsequent meetings with his probation officer and didn't show for court appearances, prosecutors said in court records.

The case stemmed from his conviction of cocaine possession and giving a false name to police in July 2010. He served about a year in prison and had been given probation in lieu of the remainder of his eight-year sentence.

Police first learned of Molitor's claim in August, about a month after the abduction. Divel said in exchange for the information, police petitioned the Harford County state's attorney's office to seek bail for Molitor, who was back in jail on the probation violation charge. Divel said Molitor requested bail, which was granted, so he had time to get "get his affairs in order."

By early October, Divel said, the police had ruled out as a suspect the man Molitor claimed was Ripken's kidnapper. "Through interviews and other investigation, we exonerated" the man, Divel said. "We completely ruled him out."

Divel then contacted Harford County prosecutors, and Divel was called to testify. The judge ultimately revoked Molitor's probation.

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