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Trooper's widow attends Tirado trial to purge past


She has become a singular presence in the Ellicott City courtroom, a striking woman with shoulder-length chestnut hair who sits calmly in the first row, taking notes on the trial of the man accused of murdering her husband.

For Virginia "Ginni" Wolf, watching every day as prosecutors make their case against Eric Joseph Tirado is a catharsis, a way to help her purge the dark feelings she has been carrying since March 29, 1990.

"I am counting on the trial to put this behind me," she said in her first interview since state police Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf was gunned down. Her eyes show the pain she still feels every day.

Like any police officer's wife, Mrs. Wolf was nagged by a sense of dread whenever her husband worked the night shift. She was awake early on March 29, having paced the floor much of the night, when she heard a knock at the door of her Glen Burnie home at 6 a.m.

"I knew right then that something bad had happened to Ted," she said, and even 15 months later it "seems like yesterday to me."

Her son, Ted Jr., now a 17-year-old senior at Glen Burnie High School, answered the door because he was preparing to go to school, where he has followed in the footsteps of his father as a stellar athlete.

A friend of the family, state police Cpl. Phil Hinkle was at the door with the barracks commander and several other troopers.

"One look at their faces said it all," Mrs. Wolf said. The troopers looked so taut that if she had reached out to touch them "they would have all fallen down the steps like Dominoes," she said.

As she stood in her robe, not far from a portrait of her husband in a three-piece suit posing with her and their three children, Corporal Hinkle told her the terrible news.

"Ted was shot," the corporal said, as Mrs. Wolf and Ted Jr. listened intently.

"I knew that Ted was dead, but at first he didn't say," Mrs. Wolf recalled. "I had to ask, and it was real hard for him to tell me."

Ginni Wolf, who was married to Corporal Wolf for 19 years, is a shy woman who was raised in the Parkville section of Baltimore County, attended Catholic schools and kept her promise to her parents to graduate from Loyola College after marrying Ted in her junior year.

In the aftermath of her tragedy, she has shied away from publicity, keeping busy raising her three sons, aged 13 to 17.

"I am functioning," she said. "The kids are around to take care of, and I am putting everything about my future off until after the trial."

Her husband's memory is everywhere inside their home.

There is the signed and inscribed photograph of President Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush, who posed with the family at the funeral home, where a public viewing brought throngs of mourners.

Two plaques lauding Corporal Wolf as "Trooper of the Year" hang in the hallway outside the bedrooms. A sketch of the trooper, a present from his colleagues at the Waterloo barracks, is on another wall, and a porcelain figure of the corporal adorns a buffet table in the dining room.

"Things were always interesting with Ted," Mrs. Wolf said, recalling that her husband was a practical joker and competitive man, who coached his sons' Little League teams and would play on state police basketball and softball teams.

"He played third base and the outfield on the softball team, and he was a good hitter," Mrs. Wolf reminisced. "He always went for the home run, even though people would tell him just to get on base."

Like many other officers, he moonlighted as a security guard. He also was a handyman, who refurbished the entire basement into a bedroom and bathroom and built a deck in back of their split foyer.

In whatever spare time he had left over, Corporal Wolf took college courses, eventually getting a bachelor's degree in law enforcement from the University of Baltimore in the late 1970s.

But he never longed for the promotion a degree might bring.

"He really did not have much interest in being promoted," said Mrs. Wolf. "He did not want to sit behind a desk. He wanted to be on the road."

Their plans for the future were to travel once the boys were grown. "We wanted to catch up on time we lost" because their lives were so busy, Mrs. Wolf said.

Her sons, she said, say little to her about their father's death. "I guess they feel they don't want to hurt me," their mother said.

She has learned from others that her sons have written school compositions saying "how much they miss their father, and Ted Jr. has said that the first basket he makes in every varsity basketball game is for his father, who taught him his moves on the court."

The first weeks after her husband's death are still a blur in her memory, Mrs. Wolf said. Vicki Schuler, a neighbor, "got the key to the house and took care of everything. They went grocery shopping, arranging for food -- so many platters and trays that we could not fit everything into the refrigerator -- and they would clean the house."

Her pastor, the Rev. Martin Hammond, of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Glen Burnie, still sends her notes of encouragement and flowers at Easter and Christmas.

Now, Mrs. Wolf has settled into a domestic routine. Whenever she has to make a major household decision, she asks herself, "Is this what he would want to do?"

That is why, when the defense filed a motion to keep all potential witnesses out of the courtroom, she hired her own lawyer to argue that she had a right to be there. If Tirado, 27, of the Bronx, N.Y., is convicted Mrs. Wolf would be called to testify about the impact of her husband's murder on their family.

Howard County Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. decided that both Mrs. Wolf and members of the Tirado family, who also might testify about his childhood if he is convicted, could stay in the courtroom during the trial.

"I think Ted would want me to fight to stay in the courtroom," Mrs. Wolf said. "I want to see that the system works. I would hate to think the system of justice would desert the principles Ted died for, and I don't want the kids to think he died for no reason."

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