Identity of victim in April 8 homicide still a mystery 3 charged, but motive is unknown


Nearly a month after a young man was fatally stabbed on a South Baltimore street, homicide investigators are still trying to determine the victim's identity and a motive for the slaying.

In a rare case in which the suspects were identified long before the victim, a 23-year-old man and identical-twin teen-age brothers face charges of first-degree murder for the April 8 attack, police said.

The body was found in the 1400 block of Key Highway, about a mile from the Locust Point marine terminals. Police, frustrated with trying to identify the victim, have even contacted the U.S. Coast Guard for any reports of missing seamen.

"He might have been a seaman from one of the ships, or he might have been a hitchhiker who wandered into the area from nearby I-95," said homicide Detective Donald Steinhice. "We just don't know."

Police did not find identification papers on the victim's body, and the man's fingerprints did not point to a criminal record or other information that would identify him.

The victim is black, apparently in his 20s or late teens, about 6-foot-1, and weighing 169 pounds. He had short hair and brown eyes. At the time of his death, he wore a three-quarter-length olive coat, a blue and yellow striped shirt, a black T-shirt, blue jeans and white tennis shoes.

The victim was beaten and stabbed in the chest after a group of young whites chased him out of the neighborhood. Police said the slaying apparently resulted from an argument between the victim and his assailants.

"There was an exchange of words between them, kind of a 'What-are-you-looking-at?' thing, and it just escalated from there and got out of hand," Detective Steinhice said.

Some neighborhood residents say the fight had racial overtones, but the detective said there is no indication any racial remarks were made.

On the day of the killing, police arrested Brian K. Abrams, 23, of the 1500 block of Webster St., and 17-year-old twins charged as adults, Michael W. and James F. Hartlove of the 600 block of E. Fort Ave. Each is charged with murder and assault with a deadly weapon.

Mr. Abrams is being held without bail at the Baltimore City Detention Center. The Hartloves are free on a total of $150,000 bail and have returned to classes at Southern High School.

Police and witnesses said the unidentified man was seen walking alone on Fort Avenue shortly after 1 a.m. At 1:35 a.m., Officer Richard Palmisano of the Southern District saw the man and at least a half-dozen others standing on a corner in the 700 block of Fort Ave. where an argument seemed to be brewing, police said.

When the officer got out of his car and approached, "The black male began to run east on Fort Avenue . . . Michael Hartlove, his twin brother, James, and another tall white male chased [him]," court charging papers said.

The officer said he lost sight of the chase after the group ran north on Boyle Street toward Key Highway, court papers said.

The victim was found about 1:55 a.m. by two men who said they had seen Michael Hartlove "red in the face" walking from the scene, saying, "I didn't stab anyone and I'm not taking the blame for it," court papers said.

The victim died a half-hour later at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center without regaining consciousness.

In a statement to police, Michael Hartlove said "that he chased the black man but the man was lying on the ground when he got there," court papers said. James Hartlove told detectives he had only "pushed" the victim and that another man "threw [the knife] into the victim's body," the court records said.

Two witnesses who were not named in court papers told police they saw Mr. Abrams pull up to the Key Highway scene in a green car. Those witnesses said Mr. Abrams picked up a knife that was dropped by the victim, then stabbed him with it, court papers said.

A cousin to the Hartloves, Jerry Fischer, 20, who lives on nearby Covington Street, said he was driving on Fort Avenue when he saw the twins and about eight other youths arguing with the unidentified man.

"I got out of the car to see what I could do because I didn't want my cousins fighting in front of a cop," said Mr. Fischer. He said he was unable to make out what the group was arguing about, but he said the stranger was carrying a knife.

"He was a black guy in a crowd of white guys, but I don't think it was anything racial. . . . It looked like just a regular fight," he said.

Both Mr. Fischer and his mother, Jeanie, said that although the twins got in fights and occasionally got into minor trouble, they aren't capable of murder. "This whole thing is terrible," Mrs. Fischer said. "The twins get charged with murder for something I know they couldn't do. Someone else is dead, and that poor person's family doesn't even know it."

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