It's minutes before midnight Monday, and Westminster Police Chief Sam R. Leppo and Lt. Dean A. Brewer have two barely-identified bodies and a couple of clues to a double homicide.
The phone rings. A police officer in Florida has information about a stolen car from Westminster.
"A stolen car? You must be kidding. This is the start of a homicide investigation," mused the chief and his top investigator before answering the phone.
"He told us the name of the car's owner, and it just clicked," Lieutenant Brewer said Friday. "We hadn't even confirmed the identity of the woman and here he is with information on this woman's car. He saved us a lot of days of digging."
The car -- destroyed when a 14-year-old Reisterstown runaway flipped it over on Interstate 95 near St. Augustine -- was registered to Cathryn Brace Farrar, the 39-year-old nurse's aide who, with her 35-year-old companion George William Wahl, was discovered stabbed to death Monday night in Ms. Farrar's Bishop's Garth apartment.
Less than 30 hours after that phone call, the woman's 18-year-old son and a 17-year-old girl were in custody, charged in the killings.
Westminster police get little practice in solving homicides, even less in solving double homicides.
Mr. Wahl and Ms. Farrar are victims No. 2 and 3 this year. The last time Westminster police handled a double homicide was in 1988.
But this investigation, which culminated Thursday night with the return of suspects Jason Aaron DeLong and Sara E. Citroni to Carroll County to face charges, fell into place almost from the start.
The key to the whole investigation, Lieutenant Brewer said, was the juvenile who wrecked Ms. Farrar's orange 1980 Chevette.
Police say Mr. Wahl and Ms. Farrar were stabbed sometime during the day on July 29. Police say they know of no motive except for a possible family disagreement.
According to court records and police accounts, Mr. DeLong -- who lived with his mother -- was seen at the apartment window July 29.
Investigators say he climbed into the apartment, opened the door and called to a second person, "Get in here. We have a mess to clean up."
Mr. DeLong and Ms. Citroni were seen leaving the apartment -- Mr. DeLong with blood on his leg, several neighbors told police. The two sped off in Ms. Farrar's car.
As Mr. Wahl and Ms. Farrar lay in pools of blood, Mr. DeLong and the Ms. Citroni drove to the Reisterstown home of a friend, Stephen Black, police say.
There, Mr. DeLong took a shower, dropped a large knife into a trash can and told Mr. Black -- who has not been charged with any crime -- he had been in a fight in which he cut somebody.
Ms. Citroni, Mr. Black told police, tried to change the license tags on Ms. Farrar's car.
She gave Mr. Black Ms. Farrar's automated teller machine bank card, which was used three times around Reisterstown July 29 and 30, Lieutenant Brewer said.
Mr. DeLong and Ms. Citroni also met up with the 14-year-old boy who crashed the car in Florida. Investigators say the boy -- reported as a runaway from Reisterstown -- is a friend of Ms. Citroni's.
The trio headed south sometime July 30 or July 31, investigators said.
As the three drove 800 miles from Baltimore to northern Florida, Ms. Farrar's neighbors began to wonder where she and Mr. Wahl were.
They told police it was unusual to go days without seeing the friendly pair, who seemed to walk everywhere.
Mr. Wahl was missed at his job at the Westminster McDonald's, and neighbors wondered where Ms. Farrar's recently purchased Chevette had gone.
About the same time police in Westminster responded to complaints about an odor coming from Ms. Farrar's apartment, Florida Highway Patrol officers were cleaning up the scraps of Ms. Farrar's car along I-95 north of St. Augustine.
The youth -- who had dropped Ms. Citroni and Mr. DeLong at a nearby shopping mall with a promise to pick them up in a couple of hours -- was heading south when the car spun out of control, careened across the median of the four-lane highway, flipped and came to rest in the northbound lanes, police said.
"The kid jumped out of the car, and the highway patrol officer scarfed him up," said Lt. Elliott Gribble of the St. John's County Sheriff's Department. "When he started spewing about a homicide, about how he hadn't stolen the car, the officer called us."
Sgt. Chuck West, a St. John's detective, called Chief Leppo and Lieutenant Brewer.
"He told us about Stephen Black, about the ATM card, about the son and the girl," Lieutenant Brewer said.
The lieutenant spoke to Mr. Black and his father.
They told him about the knife, the car, the shower and the bloody leg.
The 14-year-old -- whose name is being withheld because of his age -- has been charged with two counts of accessory after the fact to first-degree murder. He is being held at the Charles W. Hickey School in Cub Hill.
Lieutenant Brewer and Detective Wayne Mann flew to Orlando and caught a commuter jet to Daytona Beach. They were in St. Augustine early Tuesday afternoon, less than 12 hours after Sergeant West's phone call.
After an interview with Sergeant West -- who determined that the youth was reported as a runaway by Baltimore County Police -- the Westminster detectives put out an all-points bulletin for Mr. DeLong and Ms. Citroni.
"Every single police agency we came in contact with down there was fantastic, all willing to help us," Lieutenant Brewer said.
He and Detective Mann settled into the St. Augustine Holiday Inn Tuesday night, shortly after Westminster police Detective Michael Augerinos filed two counts each of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, manslaughter, stabbing with intent to maim and conspiracy to each count against Ms. Citroni and Mr. DeLong.
Then the phone rang.
"We were asleep, getting some rest, and then we get a call at 4:30 [a.m.] from Jupiter, Fla. The two suspects were found," Lieutenant Brewer said.
Ms. Citroni and Mr. DeLong were arrested on a commercial strip near I-95 in Jupiter at 4:15 a.m. Wednesday by Jupiter police Officer Rick Hubbard.
"I circulated the information about the two around the department before the midnight shift," said Jupiter Detective Robert Harbar. He knew that Mr. DeLong had moved to Westminster from Jupiter about a year ago, and that his father still lives there.
"Everything fell into place perfectly," Detective Harbar said.
As Ms. Citroni and Mr. DeLong were booked into the Palm Beach County Jail, the Westminster detectives were driving the 220 miles from St. Augustine in a rented car.
Later Wednesday, the Westminster detectives interviewed the two suspects.
The pair told the detectives that they would waive extradition to Maryland in court Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Westminster detectives drove to Jacksonville, Fla., where the 14-year-old was detained. They took him back to West Palm Beach, where local police met them at the airport with Mr. DeLong and Ms. Citroni.
The detectives and the three suspects were back in Westminster late Thursday night.
Authorities say Mr. DeLong could face the death penalty. The death penalty cannot be pursued against Ms. Citroni because of her age.
The two asked for a postponement of their bail hearings in Carroll District Court Friday to give their attorneys time to prepare.