After stopping a group of young people drinking alcohol at a park near the Washington Monument, the officers found a man carrying a rusty .22-caliber revolver with an obliterated serial number.
Police said Thursday that subsequent information helped them connect the man, a 25-year-old drifter from North Carolina, to the double shooting.
Quinton Decarlo Bass of Raleigh, N.C., has been charged with killing artist Alex Ulrich, 40, and seriously wounding Larry Peterson, 56, a community activist. The shooting occurred early Aug. 10 outside Peterson's bed-and-breakfast next to the Belvedere Hotel, on East Chase Street.
Police disclosed for the first time that there was a third victim who was robbed but not shot. The victims did not know the shooter, and the motive is believed to be robbery, officials said, describing the case as an "open, active investigation."
The break in the case appears to have come Aug. 31, when Dipaola and Vinias, assigned to a foot patrol in response to the crimes, approached five people who were drinking alcohol in East Mount Vernon Park about 8:30 p.m.
Deputy Commissioner John Skinner praised a plan put in place by Col. Dean Palmere to saturate the area after the shooting. Officers "were in the right community, doing the right kind of work, which led to the information that allowed [detectives] to close the case," Skinner said.
Bass, who was among the group, was charged with a handgun violation and held on an open robbery warrant. Another man, Quantae Shawn Garris, 31, had a knife and was charged with possession of a deadly weapon. Bass, Garris and three others were also charged with open-container violations.
Police said they took information from that investigation and corroborated it with details from the murder case, and were able to determine that Bass was the shooter.
Joshua Ellsworth, the lead homicide detective, praised the community, saying information gleaned not only from Mount Vernon residents but others in the area "was instrumental in solving this murder." Jason Curtis, president of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association, said Ellsworth worked "tirelessly" on the case.
Bass, also known as "Ty," has a criminal history in North Carolina, police said; he came to Baltimore this year and had been staying in homeless shelters and vacant dwellings. He's also facing robbery charges from an Aug. 16 incident.
Paul Warren, vice president of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association, said homeless people frequent the park around the Washington Monument, walking a few blocks from the city's Weinberg Housing and Resource Center on the Fallsway.
Warren said the city had agreed to have police conduct hourly patrols in the area as part of a 2009 memorandum of understanding but failed to keep up with the terms of the agreement. According to Warren and Curtis, the concerns were raised with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at a June meeting, but she said the neighborhood could take the issue to court.
A spokesman for the mayor said the city has met with neighbors to try to avoid litigation and has dispatched homeless outreach teams to the area to address the problem.
"What does it say about the security of our parks that a suspected murderer felt comfortable lounging in our parks on a Friday evening with a gun in his pocket and a container of alcohol in his hand?" Warren wrote in an email to residents.
Curtis said the patrols are also meant to ensure that homeless people are not victims themselves. "There are a lot of homeless people who become victims of crimes that have been asleep in that park, asleep on church steps, and we don't want those people to be victims," Curtis said.
North Carolina court records show Bass was convicted in 2008 of robbery with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 12 to 15 months in jail. He also received probation for a 2005 assault charge.
Ulrich, a native of Western Maryland, had recently moved to Baltimore to pursue an interest in photography. Peterson has long been a champion for the Mount Vernon neighborhood and was regarded as an "unofficial mayor." Hundreds turned out for a vigil after the shootings.
Warren, a longtime friend, said Peterson is "doing very, very well, every day moving ahead" in his recovery from the shooting.