Police investigating the slayings of two Cockeysville men last month at the Loch Raven Reservoir said yesterday that one of the victims may have been shot dead by an assault rifle that he'd gone to the watershed to purchase.
Investigators discussed the theory at a news conference that included the widow of one of the victims -- speaking publicly for the first time since the slayings -- asking potential witnesses to consider her fatherless, infant son.
Stymied in their efforts to solve the June 15 slayings, Baltimore County police made the unusual move of releasing details about the suspected weapon -- and said Vincent B. Young told a friend days before his death that he wanted to buy an AK-47-type assault weapon.
That conversation and ballistics tests suggesting Mr. Young was shot by an AK-series rifle have led police to form their theory. In a separate conversation just before he set out on his motorcycle on the night of his death, Mr. Young, 26, told a friend he was going to meet someone at the reservoir.
Still, investigators said that they have no suspects and no firm motive, and they renewed a request for the public's help in cracking the case.
Police continue to believe that the second victim, 46-year-old Vernon A. Smith, was beaten to death when he either happened upon the crime scene or responded to the sound of shots or cries for help. Police said Mr. Smith was not beaten with a rifle, but they would not describe the weapon used against him.
Mr. Smith's 35-year-old widow, Patricia Bannister, held the couple's infant son, Joshua, as she faced reporters. Mr. Smith's two sons from a previous marriage, Zeke, 13, and Zachary, 11, sat nearby.
Choking back tears, Ms. Bannister said, "All I can ask is that if anyone knows anything about this, to please call and please give us the information we need because Josh is the most innocent victim of all, along with Zeke and Zack."
Mr. Young's parents also had planned to be at the news conference, but they were involved in an automobile accident on their way to Towson from their home in New Jersey. Cpl. Kevin B. Novak, a county police spokesman, said the parents were hospitalized but their injuries did not appear serious.
The bodies of the two men were found floating in the shallow waters of a cove near the Warren Road bridge by volunteer firefighters, shortly after Mr. Smith's family filed a missing person report. Mr. Smith, a contractor, had gone to the area to fish. His red Jeep Cherokee was later found at the Hunt Valley Golf Club about two miles away.
Lt. Sam Bowerman, a criminal profiler for the county police, said agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are helping police determine whether the rifle believed used in the slaying has since been sold. Investigators also are trying to discover where casings found at the scene were purchased. Police would not say how many times Mr. Young was shot.
Mr. Young, said police, was a hunter, and several rifles and shotguns were recovered from his home. Police speculated that he may have met a seller at the reservoir because the secluded location would have allowed for the rifle to be test-fired.
Police also released yesterday a timetable of events surrounding the killings. Most striking, they said, was that the Jeep Cherokee's odometer showed it was driven no more than eight miles after the slayings, even though there was at least a 40-minute gap between the killings and the abandonment at the club.
"They should have had more miles on that vehicle if they were out driving around," Lieutenant Bowerman said. "What were they doing?"
Police say that more than one person may have been present at the time of the slaying. And they had a message for any accomplice: Come forward before the killer makes you his next victim.
They also said that the killer or killers would likely have behaved oddly in the hours and days after the slayings, perhaps acting distracted or agitated, and perhaps changing their appearance or leaving town.
Police are looking for the driver of a dark, large, older model car seen closely following a red Jeep Cherokee as it turned from Paper Mill Road on to Phoenix Road shortly after 10 p.m. the night of the slayings. Among other potential witnesses asked to call police are several people who were seen in the reservoir area that night and a man seen standing outside his car in the golf club parking lot at 10:10 p.m. that night.
Police said they have not found a 1977 or 1978 Chevrolet Monte Carlo seen near the cove. They also said no one has come forward with information on a blood-stained baseball cap with a painted picture of Donald Duck on the front. The cap was found in the woods near the cove.
Police asked anyone with information to call 887-2198.