Missing bodies found in suspect's basement

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The bodies of two Carroll County men were unearthed yesterday from the basement of an Arbutus home where they were alleged to have been murdered over a $1,200 marijuana debt, state police said.

A former Howard County parks worker who lived in the house was charged with killing Esteban "Steve" Santana Jr., 31, and Kurt J. Benkert, 26, both of the 1100 block of Deer Park Road near Westminster.

The men were reported missing when Mr. Santana's red Ford pickup truck was found abandoned about 1 p.m. Thursday in Patapsco Valley State Park.

His 9-month-old daughter, Sabrina, was alone inside, crying in her infant seat but unharmed.

Matt Gerald Green, who was arrested Saturday night before the bodies were discovered, was being held without bond last night at the Baltimore County Detention Center. A bail review hearing is planned for today in Towson District Court.

The bodies were found at 1:15 a.m. Police said the men had been shot to death and buried 4 to 5 feet under a dirt portion of the basement of the single-story frame house in the 1200 block of Vogt Ave.

Mr. Green lived in the small house with his girlfriend, Suzanne Krug, 22, and two children, police said.

A police team digging with shovels reached the bodies -- buried in the same hole, one atop the other -- and finally unearthed them about 3:30 a.m., said Lt. Gregory M. Shipley, a state police spokesman.

The bodies were taken to the state medical examiner's office in Baltimore for autopsies. A preliminary report showed that Mr. Santana was shot in the chest and Mr. Benkert "in the head area," Lieutenant Shipley said.

Police were searching yesterday for the weapon, he said. Lieutenant Shipley said he did not know how many shots had been fired or what type of gun was used.

"We believe at this point that Santana and Benkert went to [Mr. Green's] house to collect on a $1,200 debt he apparently owed them for marijuana purchases," Lieutenant Shipley said. "We believe the murders took place in the house sometime Thursday and that he buried them in the dirt part of the basement."

Neighbors said yesterday that Mr. Green had lived in the Arbutus neighborhood for about a year. Mr. Green didn't associate much with neighbors, they said.

"He was just another neighbor tied to his own crowd of people. He had a bunch of buddies hanging around in pickups and 4-by-4s," said Murray Bloom, a Vogt Avenue resident.

Several neighbors said Mr. Green's home was the site of frequent domestic disturbances. One neighbor said the suspect's house seemed to be a magnet for vehicle traffic on the dead-end street.

Residents described the neighborhood as a stable, working-class area where homeowners -- many there for 30 years or more -- watch out for each other and gather for bull and oyster roasts, parades and other events.

Jeremy Kramer, 25, a next-door neighbor who went to Lansdowne High School with Mr. Green, said he has noticed a number of people going in and out of the house, but that it did not seem unusual during the holiday season.

He said he had no indication that the house was the site of any drug dealing.

Lieutenant Shipley said he did not know who drove Mr. Santana's pickup truck to the McKeldin section of the state park, which is in a remote area off Marriottsville Road near the border of Baltimore and Carroll counties. The truck's hood was warm and its doors unlocked when it was found with the crying infant inside.

The spokesman said police had not ruled out the possibility of an accomplice in the slayings. He said Mr. Green's blue Ford Bronco had been seized and that investigators would examine it today for fingerprints and evidence.

Mr. Green was fired Wednesday as a maintenance worker with the Howard County Parks and Recreation Department. A department administrator would say only that the firing was "performance-related."

Police said Mr. Green was carrying about an ounce of marijuana when he was arrested. He was charged with drug possession.

Lieutenant Shipley said there was no indication that the marijuana allegedly in dispute in the killings was grown on public land.

He said Mr. Santana and Mr. Benkert lived on the same property in Westminster, and were close friends who did landscaping work together.

Investigators believed that the victims had been involved with Mr. Green in a "substantial" marijuana distribution ring for some time, the spokesman said.

Mr. Santana and his wife, who also were the parents of two sons, have been renting a housebuilt before 1900 on the rural Westminster road for about 18 months, said landlords Henry and Mary Alice Rosenberger, who live several houses away. They described Mr. Santana as a good tenant who seemed devoted to his children.

"I never had an inkling of [drug activity]," Mr. Rosenberger said.

The Santanas often were late paying their rent, but they always paid before month's end, the Rosenbergers said.

A state police team of at least six criminal investigators, two trace-evidence experts, a crime lab technician and support personnel worked most of Saturday night and yesterday morning at the Arbutus house. They found "quite a bit of blood" in the basement -- and confirmed through on-the-spot lab tests that it was human -- before digging for the bodies, Lieutenant Shipley said.

The digging was laborious because the hole kept filling with ground water and had to be pumped repeatedly with fire department equipment, he said.

Police said they got a break in the case after interviewing friends and relatives of the victims. Mr. Santana's wife, Katherine, told police her husband had an appointment at 9 a.m. Thursday with someone she knew only as "Matt." Police identified him as Matt Gerald Green.

Investigators staked out Mr. Green's house and confronted him when he came home about 9 p.m. Friday. They got a search warrant for the Vogt Avenue house at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. By 10:30 p.m. they were "fairly certain the bodies were there," Lieutenant Shipley said.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
50°