A state highway crew working Interstate 70 near the Patapsco River bridge yesterday found the partially clothed body of a woman police say they believe is the Baltimore County 911 operator missing since she left work last Tuesday.
The woman, lying on an embankment along the westbound lanes, was wearing black-and-white checkered pants -- which matched a description of the outfit Linda May Lester was seen wearing when she left work at the county communications center in Towson.
Police had not identified the body as of last night. An autopsy will be performed today.
"There was some blood on the pavement roadside," said E. Jay Miller, a county police spokesman. "It appears she was either dragged or thrown out of the car. We believe she suffered a blunt trauma to the head. We also believe she's probably been there for some time."
A work crew inspecting the Patapsco River sign just east of the bridge at 9 a.m. spotted the body about 10 feet down the !B embankment below the highway railing, Mr. Miller said.
Police closed one lane of the road while a state police helicopter flew in to take aerial photos of the crime scene. Westbound traffic heading toward Howard County was backed up for several hours while police and K-9 units searched the area for clues.
Ms. Lester, who worked for the past four years as a civilian police dispatcher and a 911 operator, was last seen by colleagues as she drove away from a parking garage on her way home from work about 10:45 p.m. Oct. 11.
She was supposed to pick up her 2-year-old daughter, Brianna, from her estranged husband's Randallstown home, but she never arrived, police said.
A police search of Ms. Lester's Comill Court home in Owings Mills revealed nothing unusual, other than a message from her husband asking why she hadn't shown up.
Ms. Lester's father, Herbert D. Battle, was notified by police yesterday that the body found was most likely that of his daughter.
"They said they haven't identified her yet," said a tearful Mr. Battle, 56, who was sitting on the front steps of his Glyndon home, surrounded by relatives. "But they're pretty sure that it's her from the clothes she was wearing. It has to be her, because I don't think they would have come and told me that if it wasn't her.
"It's awful for somebody to do this," said Mr. Battle. "She never harmed anybody. She was a good kid that was well-liked by everyone. I should have been there for her . . . she's gone."
Mr. Battle said he was fearful when his daughter's gray 1985 Mercury Cougar was found Thursday, backed into a space behind the Ramada Inn in the 1700 block of Belmont Ave. in Woodlawn. Police said blood was found on the trunk lid, rear bumper and driver's side door.
"Everyone is a suspect and no one is a suspect right now until we get more information," Mr. Miller said yesterday.
According to court documents, Ms. Lester has been separated from her husband, Donald W. Lester, since Jan. 24. Attempts to locate him yesterday were unsuccessful.
"I just hope they'll be able to catch the person who did this to her now that they've found her," Mr. Battle said.