Staring into a video camera in the fall of 1995, 23-year-old Kimberly Spicer didn't know it but she didn't have much longer to live.
"What are you doing, Kim?" asked her sister, who was shooting a home video of the family's visit to their stepfather before his open-heart surgery at Harbor Hospital Center.
"I'm looking out the harbor window, wishing I was on the boat," said the pretty auburn-haired woman, then unemployed, struggling with a crack cocaine problem and drifting through life in lower-middle-class South Baltimore.
A year later, on Nov. 11, she lost her final struggle -- not with social problems but allegedly with a man named Joseph R. Metheny, who claims he is a serial killer, police say. She was found stabbed to death Dec. 15, buried under a trailer at a pallet factory where Metheny lived, worked and, according to police, hid two of three women he is suspected of killing.
"Kim had her problems, but she was a battler, always struggling with her problems and hoping to turn the corner," recalled her mother, Kathie Price, 44, a state-employed fiscal clerk. "I guess that's the kind of person he preyed on."
It was on and around Washington Boulevard in South Baltimore where police say Metheny, 41, hung out in bars, lived with bands of homeless men and spent almost all of his $7-an-hour wages as a forklift driver on crack, heroin and Southern Comfort.
It was also there that police say he sought out the troubled, aimless people that were to become the focus of a rage that police, prosecutors, his attorney and even his own mother have yet to comprehend.
Police are investigating his claim that he killed as many as 10 people.
"Nobody would have thought it," said Connie Snow, Spicer's older sister, who used to work at a South Baltimore bar where Metheny occasionally drank. "He was so mannerly, saying 'thank you' and 'please' all the time. My sister once even said to me she felt sorry for him."
Adds John Ingrassia, the father of Toni Lynn Ingrassia, 28, another woman Metheny is charged with killing: "Toni Lynn was a good girl. She had some problems with drugs but was trying to get help. Who could do such a sick thing to her?"
By all accounts an intelligent, well-spoken man who once took physics courses while serving in the Army, Metheny has spent much of the past 20 years in a world few people ever see.
After breaking off from his family in the 1970s, he has drifted in and out of Baltimore homeless camps composed of filthy tents and sleeping bags under bridges and over sewer gratings.
In 1995, he was charged with killing two 33-year-old homeless men, Randall Brewer and Randy Piker, amid a supposed turf dispute between "rival homeless camps," court records said. Both men had been mauled with a woodcutter's ax that Metheny's Patapsco Avenue-area camp kept under a rotting sofa, court records said.
Metheny was acquitted of the murders in Baltimore Circuit Court, where jurors sent Judge Clifton J. Gordy a note during deliberations that suggested that they thought another homeless man was responsible for the killings.
But Metheny has since claimed that he committed the killings after a night of drinking beer so that he could take $300 from one of the men, court papers said.
It is unclear how truthful his claims are, even to those handling his defense. Among other things, he told his lawyer that his mother was dead, which came as a surprise to his mother.
"Maybe he just wishes I was," said his mother, Jean B. Metheny, 78, tracked down by a reporter at her home in Markleysburg, Pa. "He pushed his family away a long time ago."
For several years, police say that Joseph Metheny's primary targets have been young white women who, like Spicer and Ingrassia, had fallen or were falling into the drug culture along Washington Boulevard.
Detectives describe the crimes as brutal sexual assaults that seem to suggest a psychotic aggression toward a certain type of woman.
One of his alleged victims, Cathy A. Magaziner, a 39-year-old woman with numerous convictions for prostitution in South Baltimore, had been decapitated, court papers said.
Metheny says he killed three other prostitutes along Washington Boulevard, although Baltimore police say those claims are unconfirmed because no bodies have been found.
"I have no reason not to believe him," said his attorney, Margaret A. Mead, who describes Metheny as "remarkably kind and gentle" in their conversations. "I have always found him to be forthright and honest. I think he's telling the truth."
It is unclear whether Metheny's suspected rage toward women is directed at prostitutes or simply any vulnerable young woman walking along the boulevard.
Court records show that neither Spicer nor Ingrassia was ever charged with prostitution.
On the night she was killed in November, Spicer had gotten into a brief argument with her mother at their Huron Street home and stormed out of the house. Her mother, Kathie Price, said she had been upset over the death of Price's brother, who died Nov. 2 of a heroin overdose in an abandoned rowhouse on Wilkens Avenue.
As Price recounted the story in a recent interview at their modest brick home, her husband, Robert Price, quietly sitting on a chair nearby, added his opinion: "These drugs are going to bring everybody down. That's what this is all about."
"When we had an argument, she would leave but always come back," said Kathie Price, who raised four children. "But she must have run into him on the boulevard."
Court papers allege that Metheny killed Spicer after taking her to a trailer where he was temporarily living at his work site, Joe Stein & Sons in the 3200 block of James St.
Traces of blood were found in the trailer, and Metheny later showed Spicer's body to a friend, hoping for assistance in burying her, court records allege.
That man, unnamed in arrest papers, was the person who notified police about Metheny, who was arrested and promptly began confessing to past killings, the authorities say.
Drugs, alcohol blamed
His attorney says Metheny is remorseful about the killings, saying that his heavy drug and alcohol abuse brought about violent changes in his personality.
"He describes it as a rage that comes forward through drugs," Mead said. "He describes being very frustrated, too, about how he grew up and the life experiences he had."
Metheny was one of six children born into a poor West Virginia family. He has told his attorney that he was a neglected child shuffled off to "foster-like" homes by his parents, who he claimed were dead.
But his mother's recollections contradict some of his statements.
XTC She described her son as a "normal boy" growing up. "He was smart and had a good childhood. If he was neglected, it was his own fault. It was a pretty good home," she said, adding that none of her children was ever placed in other homes.
Jean Metheny said she and her husband, a laborer, struggled to make ends meet and moved to the North Point Boulevard area of Essex shortly before Joseph Metheny was born.
When Joseph Metheny was 6, his father was killed in a car accident in Terra Alta, W.Va., a death that the family took hard, Jean Metheny said.
"It was very hard on me. I had to work to support the family, and I did everything I could to keep my kids together," she said.
In the years after her husband's death, Jean Metheny says she worked as a Dundalk-area waitress, a barmaid and as a canteen truck driver who delivered lunches to workers at the Sparrows Point shipyard.
She said she could not be with her family "every single minute but it was a normal family."
"We weren't rich, but we always had something to eat and a roof over our heads. And I never went on welfare," Jean Metheny said.
She remembers her son as an avid bicycle rider, an above-average student, and averse to getting into fights with other children.
"He wasn't a mean kid at all. He was always polite to everybody," she said.
When he turned 18 in 1973, he entered the Army and was stationed in Germany, where he met a woman that he seemed very close to, his mother said.
Joseph Metheny told his attorney that he served in Vietnam and became addicted to heroin during his tour of duty in an artillery unit. But his mother said she does not recall him having served in Vietnam; his military records were not immediately available.
Joseph Metheny seldom called or wrote to his mother after he left home, she recalled. The relationship eventually disintegrated, and the two didn't speak for 10 years, Jean Metheny said.
"He just kept drifting further and further away," his mother said. "I think the worst thing that ever happened to him was drugs. It's a sad, sad story."
Metheny's criminal record shows nothing more serious than common assault, drunk and disorderly conduct, and occasional barroom fights, his lawyer said. He told his attorney that he has a 12-year-old son in foster care.
Police say they cleared out the homeless camps -- one called "Tent City" -- where vagrants set up makeshift homes.
Today, Metheny sits in a city jail cell, waiting for psychiatric evaluations and telling his attorney that drugs and a bad childhood are at the root of his problems.
His past hardships and mental state do not hold much interest to the families of those he is accused of killing.
Spicer's mother keeps a tattered Bible that her daughter used to read during the times when she tried to confront her problems. One passage that Spicer underlined and highlighted, from the Epistle of Paul the Apostle, reads: "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
Her mother, who lived in three foster homes while growing up poor in South Baltimore, has the same view.
"I'd like to ask him why he killed her," she said, sitting on her sofa with tears in her eyes. "But we'll never really know. He's just a killer. In some people, there's just evil."
Pub Date: 1/13/97