Clare Lenore Stoudt and Thelma Wynn appeared to have little in common except their age, gender and motherhood, but the two Howard County women were killed just days apart in their homes in what police believe were likely domestic violence incidents.
Stoudt, 35, the mother of five children, had worked doggedly for years to graduate from college and then law school in 2008 and was a valued tax attorney at the Washington firm of Pillsbury Winthrop, Shaw and Pittman.
"She was a special person," said her boss, Tina Kearns. "She did not have it easy." Stoudt stood out both professionally and personally, she said.
"She was a very good tax lawyer" hired right out of Georgetown's law school, Kearns said. "She was universally loved and admired around here because of her unconventional [professional] route," which included years of attending college and law school at night and online.
Stoudt, who grew up in Southern Maryland, was found dead Saturday evening along with Reginald Van Graves, 49, the father of her three youngest children in the townhouse they all shared in Ellicott City. Two older children lived with other relatives. A legal battle over custody had begun just five days earlier, according to a Patuxent Publishing review of circuit court records.
Wynn, 34, of Long Reach in Columbia was the mother of four children. She had been a discount store worker who was home recovering from an injury, according to her next-door neighbor Sikya Owens. That lack of income may have led her to allow her husband, Damon Willie White, back into the three-bedroom apartment she rented, although she had obtained a restraining order against him in 2008. Owens said Wynn did not drive and White did handyman and construction work.
Police said that they believe White, 35, killed Wynn, injured himself and set fire to the third-floor unit Sept. 7. He is recovering from his injuries at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, and faces murder and arson charges when he is discharged. A knife found inside is being investigated as the possible murder weapon.
Owens said she could often hear White screaming and yelling at Wynn back in 2008, and said he had been back only a few weeks this time, with no public rows evident. Still, she could tell he hadn't really changed, she said.
"He would never let her go anywhere without him. He was very possessive," she said. When Wynn visited recently to chat, Owens said that White sent their youngest son over several times to summon her home. Despite that, Wynn was "very friendly. Everyone loved her," she said. "She was very maternal when it came to the kids," who are 17, 15, 11 and 6.
The lesson for domestic violence professionals is clear, said Krista McKee, director of the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County.
"Domestic violence cuts across all socioeconomic levels, from people with educations and those without," she said. "Every 15 seconds in the United States, a woman will be the victim of domestic violence. Three women in the U.S. will lose their lives today [on average] from domestic violence."
Kearns said Stoudt had a delightful personality as well as legal smarts.
"She was very engaging and very interested in who she talked to. She was tenacious and hard-working. Everyone is very surprised and sad" to hear about her death, Kearns said.
According to county court records reviewed by Patuxent Publishing, Graves was divorced in 2005, and had traded claims of battery with a woman in 1991 and 1993.
A police spokeswoman said that police are looking at the possibility of domestic abuse as the cause of the two deaths in the 3700 block of Bonneybridge Place. Both victims died from gunshot wounds, and a gun was found on the floor. There was no forced entry, though autopsies must be performed before a final conclusion is reached.
Monday afternoon, the three-level townhouse with gray siding looked virtually normal, with a pink tricycle, a small bike and a tiny toy shopping cart near the front steps. A small remnant of yellow police tape was still tied to the entry railing. A carton of milk was visible on the kitchen table, along with two potted plants. A female neighbor with a cell phone shooed a reporter away.
"We want to say this is a nice community," she said.
Patuxent Publishing reporter Kellie Woodhouse contributed to this story.