A used car purchased this month and apparently abandoned days later has been linked by state police to the killing of a 20-year-old woman found dead on a rural Eastern Shore road -- and yesterday detectives charged the buyer with murder.
Broderick Charles Mitchell, 41, of Salisbury had been in jail since Wednesday night on a warrant for unrelated vehicle theft charges, when detectives began to question him about the death of Catharyn Ruth Garner.
Her body was found Oct. 22 after a motorist notified police that "either a human body or a mannequin" was lying on the side of Athol Road, 13 miles west of Salisbury, authorities said.
Garner, also known as Catharyn Hodges, was identified through fingerprints. The cause of death was "blunt force trauma," according to a preliminary autopsy report.
She had been reported missing by relatives Oct. 15 and was last known to have been seen -- in Salisbury, with a man in a red car -- by a sister, police said.
More than a dozen investigators pursued leads in Garner's disappearance -- the most promising being a call from a Delaware car dealer who had sold Mitchell a red 1989 Pontiac Sunbird the day Garner was reported missing.
The dealership had received a call Monday from the owners of a package goods store on Delaware Route 24 near the Maryland border reporting that a car with a license tag holder identifying the dealer had been left there. Thinking the car might have had a mechanical problem, the salesman had the automobile towed to the dealership in Seaford and tried to contact Mitchell.
In the process of examining the vehicle, the salesman found "evidence" of a crime, according to Pete Piringer, a spokesman for the state police, who would not elaborate.
Charged with first-degree murder and assault, Mitchell was confined yesterday at the Wicomico County Detention Center awaiting a bond hearing.
State police sources said the killing was "drug-related."
Mitchell, who had served in the Navy, was convicted of theft in August 1995, sentenced to three years in prison and released in August 1997, according to court records.