James E. Musser was a small-town boy from Hagerstown who came to love the big city, a jovial workaholic who put in long hours at his Baltimore business, Able Auto Insurance, whose modest premises on Eastern Avenue he jokingly referred to as "Able Towers."
"Jimmy would be leaning back with his leg up on the table, with three phones ringing, hustling -- that's how he was happiest," said Wayne Jerrell, Mr. Musser's friend, barber and neighbor in Ellicott City, where the insurance agent lived with his wife, Patty, and two children.
Patty Musser says she worried about violent crime when her husband worked late in Baltimore, and in recent years he had been sufficiently concerned about crime to start carrying|| TC handgun, especially when his business required that he carry quantities of cash.
But he did not have the gun Friday night when an assailant entered his office in Fells Point and repeatedly stabbed Mr. Musser, 44, and his secretary, Rosane Trimp, 21. Mr. Musser was pronounced dead at the scene.
Ms. Trimp, who was stabbed in the neck, staggered out of the shop and collapsed on the sidewalk, police said. She was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where friends said she remained in serious condition last night.
Mrs. Musser said police have identified as the prime suspect in the murder a man who occasionally worked for Mr. Musser on the rental houses he owned on the side. She said witnesses had seen Mr. Musser and Ms. Trimp heading back to the office after buying sandwiches nearby about 9 p.m. Possibly, she said, the assailant followed the victims into the office.
"He trusted people," Mrs. Musser said of her husband. "He trusted them too much."
Mrs. Musser said she had spoken with her husband at 7:15 p.m. Friday and they agreed to meet later at a Catonsville restaurant. When he didn't show up, she was not immediately worried because his work often kept him late, she said.
"If he had a client who could only come in at 10 o'clock, he'd wait," she said.
Mrs. Musser said that the people and action of Fells Point fascinated her husband. "He always said that when he retired, he wanted to move to the city," she recalled. "He thought it was exciting -- lots of people, lots to do."
She said he enjoyed tennis and fishing, and liked to spend his vacations "lying in the sun at the beach."
"You met him once and you didn't forget him because of his jovialness and his sincerity," said David Lockabaugh, a childhood friend from Hagerstown and his partner in a res
taurant, called Burger Park, USA, in Inwood, W.Va. "He never had a bad word to say about anyone. He was a carefree, happy guy -- not the type to be frightened of anything."
Mr. Musser was born and grew up in Hagerstown, where he graduated from South Hagerstown High School and studied for two years at Hagerstown Junior College. He received a bachelor's degree in business from Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va., and a master's in business administration from James Madison University in 1972, his wife said.
After working at Sears in Hagerstown for about a year, Mr. Musser spent a decade as an agent and manager for Allstate Insurance Co., working in several mid-Atlantic cities.
After moving to Ellicott City in the early 1980s, he became an independent agent for Nationwide Insurance Co., with an office in Ellicott City as well as the 5-year-old Able business in Fells Point.
He worked part time awhile as a builder and real estate agent.
Viewing will be tomorrow from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Harry Witzke funeral establishment on Old Columbia Pike in Ellicott City. Services will be at the same location at 10 a.m. Wednesday, with burial to follow at 12:30 p.m. at Cedar Lawn Cemetery in Hagerstown.
He is survived by his wife, the former Margaret Patricia Romano; a daughter, Shannon, 19, and a son, James II, 15; his parents, Maurice Edward Musser and Thelma Ruth Musser of Hagerstown; and two sisters, Jane Hodal of Fredericksburg, Va., and Roberta Kinslow of Hagerstown.