Joyce Carol Chaney, a former cosmetologist who changed careers and became Baltimore County's first full-fledged female police officer assigned to patrol duty in 1974, was found dead Sunday in the bedroom of her Parkville home.
She was 67.
Her brother, David J. Nielsen of Mount Airy, said the death appeared to be heat-related, but police said the cause remains unknown.
Sean Vinson, a spokesman for Baltimore County police, said Wednesday that officers do not believe Mrs. Chaney's death was a result of the heat but that they won't know until they get the results of an autopsy and toxicology reports.
Nielsen said he believed heat was a factor because she was found upstairs in her home wearing a sweater in a hot bedroom. He said his sister's home had been without electricity since a severe storm cut power to much of the Parkville area on Friday.
"She had come downstairs and left a note on the front porch that read: 'In bed — Come in please — on 2nd floor — I NEED HELP. J.C. Chaney,' " her brother said.
The daughter of a Bethlehem steelworker and a homemaker, the former Joyce Carol Nielsen, who was known as Carol, was born in Mountain City, Tenn.
She moved with her family to Loch Raven Village in 1950 and graduated from Parkville High School in 1963.
When Mrs. Chaney was attending high school, she intended to become a model but became a cosmetologist instead.
Tired of working long hours in a beauty salon and desiring to do something more productive with her life, Mrs. Chaney decided to apply for a position as a school crossing guard and was invited to take the police officer examination.
"I love people, and I wasn't accomplishing anything," she told The Evening Sun in a 1978 interview.
Mrs. Chaney was unaware at the time that Baltimore County police officials were impressed by her application — so much so they wanted to see if she had the qualifications to become a regular police officer.
"I thought, what intelligent crossing guards we must have," Mrs. Chaney said in the 1978 interview, recalling the examination.
Mrs. Chaney survived 16 weeks of training at the Police Academy, graduating in 1974 — 38th in a class of 59 and having maintained a "B" average.
Even though she was the only woman in the class, she was not the first woman to graduate from the academy. Previously, female graduates were given specialized assignments such as office duties, research studies or plainclothes work.
She was, however, the first woman to be assigned to patrol duty and was on the same footing as male officers when she began her career in the Garrison precinct.
After an orientation period, Mrs. Chaney was assigned a police cruiser. In 1975, she joined the Youth Services Division in the 7200 block of Belair Road as a detective specializing in child abuse investigation.
"Some male detectives, they've gotten out," she told The Evening Sun. "They said they just couldn't take it any more, seeing children harmed. I feel for those kids. But you just learn to cope."
At the time, Mrs. Chaney told The Evening Sun that there were five incidents of abuse for each one reported.
"The most dangerous times are when you first confront the abuser when you attempt to make an arrest," said Mrs. Chaney, who explained that the fear of a violent confrontation was always "in the back of my mind."
"I feel for those kids but you can feel but so much before losing effectiveness," she said in the interview.
Mrs. Chaney made public appearances, went on radio and TV, and spoke to schoolchildren, parents, teachers and other groups about child abuse.
She also handled all of the public-relations functions of the division.
In her office, Mrs. Chaney had a large picture of Snoopy on the wall with a balloon that said, "Say something nice to everyone you meet today!"
While with the Youth Division, Mrs. Chaney helped organize haunted-house fundraisers at the old Fullerton Elementary School — "Professor Ghoul's Horror School" — which raised tens of thousands of dollars for Police Athletic League programs.
"Carol was the best witch anyone could hope for. Her enthusiasm for the kids and for the project was contagious," said her brother, who ran the fundraising effort.
"She retired from the department in 1989, after being injured in a high-speed police pursuit," said her brother.
"If someone told me when I was in high school that this was what I'd be doing, I would have said no way," she said in the 1978 interview.
Mrs. Chaney was a dog fancier and had raised several prize-winning Saint Bernards. She also was an accomplished artist who was known for her sculpted Halloween pumpkins, collages and drawings.
Mrs. Chaney's husband of 45 years, Gary Lee Chaney, a retired Baltimore firefighter, died in 2009. Her daughter, Mette Yvette Chaney, died in 2005.
"She never overcame the deaths of her husband and daughter," said her brother.
Plans for services for Mrs. Chaney are incomplete.
In addition to her brother, Mrs. Chaney is survived by two sisters, Yvonne D. Strupp of Huntingtown, Calvert County, and Shirley J. Nielsen of West Palm Beach, Fla.; and many nieces and nephews.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun