Arrests just part of Wideners' legacy Family has battled the law for 35 years.


High-speed police chases, burglaries, holdups, drug scandals, petty harassments and arson.

That's the 35-year legacy of the Wideners of Sparks, whose well-chronicled battles with the law on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line and with the demon of addiction have decimated the clan.

This week, family matriarch Nellie Widener, 75; son, James Roger "Babe" Widener, 46, of Stewartstown, Pa.; and a grandson, Steven Wayne Widener, 26, of Freeland; were arrested and charged as leaders of a marijuana distribution ring. Fifteen people -- believed to be bringing 15 pounds of marijuana to Maryland from Virginia a month -- were arrested in Maryland and Pennsylvania after a 17-month investigation.

Two of the women arrested who work for the Baltimore County public school system, Diana Lynn Widener, 25, a teacher, and Gail Ruth Six, 33, of Whitehall, a school bus driver, have been suspended without pay, school officials said. If they are found innocent of the charges, they will receive back pay, said Richard E. Bavaria, school spokesman.

Diana Widener, who has been with the school system since 1988, teaches physical education at Warren and Pot Spring elementary schools, Bavaria said. Six has been driving a bus for the school system for about a year, primarily in the north central area of Baltimore County, he said.

In defense of her family, Charlotte Widener, who said she's one of three sisters and nine brothers, the children of Nellie and the late Dewey Widener, yesterday said no one is willing to publicize the good things about her relatives.

"It's prejudicial, I think," she said.

"They could not go to any neighbor in Sparks and find one derogatory comment about the Wideners, about the people along the road broke down that we've helped, or about the time when my brother went into a burning home in Westminster when he was only 15 and saved all the people and their animals," she said of brother John C. Widener, who was murdered in federal prison in 1977. Charlotte said she's lived out of state for the past 27 years, however, and hasn't kept up with all the family's activities.

Wrong impressions or not, county police and prosecutors and readers of area crime news might feel they know the family like kin themselves.

John C. Widener, the eldest of the brothers, was hacked to death with a homemade hatchet in federal prison in Atlanta in 1977. He was serving a 15-year term for receiving money from a Fawn Grove, Pa., bank robbery and for a Baltimore County burglary. His criminal record dated to 1955.

Brother Timothy Widener was convicted of burglary in 1975 and sentenced to five years in prison. He was shot in the arm by a Baltimore County police officer after a struggle near Hunt Valley Mall in March 1982, following the holdup of a gas station earlier that evening. He was later sentenced to 15 years in state prison and is now at the Baltimore pre-release unit, corrections spokesman Greg Shipley said.

Freddie Widener, another brother, was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison in June for robbing a credit union office and has a long criminal record. So does Ernest, the youngest brother, who is serving an 18-year sentence imposed in 1984 for two burglaries.

Another Timothy Widener, who was adopted by one of the brothers, was killed by a county bar owner in April 1983, as he and two accomplices tried to escape after a botched holdup of a northern county pharmacy.

This is not Nellie's first brush with the law, either. She was sentenced to 90 days in jail in 1984, at age 69, after goods stolen in county burglaries were found stored in her family home and outbuildings when police came to arrest Ernest on burglary charges.

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