Mysterious death still unsolved


What began as a routine complaint to the Direct Line column in The Evening Sun about burned-out lights in the Druid Park Lake fountain resulted in a gruesome discovery.

On June 2, 1969, five members of a Bureau of Highways electrical crew responding to the newspaper's complaint discovered the body of a 35-year old African-American woman lying face down in about 18 inches of water in a depression inside the top of the fountain.

"When the man came down the ladder and said there was a dead woman up there, I thought he was pulling my leg. He said it so nonchalantly. Nobody seemed excited about it," said Melvin Aylsworth, one of the electricians, in an interview with the Baltimore Afro-American.

"I went down and turned all the power off. Then I just got away from there," he said.

The woman, who was wearing tan slacks, a yellow, orange and white print blouse and an orange coat, was Shirley Lee Widgeon Parker, a former Urban League secretary who was working as a Sphinx Club bookkeeper and barmaid at the time of her death.

The twice-divorced mother of two vanished on April 23 on the shore of the reservoir "under mysterious circumstances," reported The Evening Sun.

How the badly decomposed body came to rest there is still a mystery more than three decades later.

The fountain rises about 20 feet from the surface of the reservoir and stands about 35 yards offshore. The top of the stone fountain is accessible only by metal footholds.

Nearly a month earlier, police had dragged the lake in vain after her date on the night of her disappearance told them he had found her pocketbook on the bank inside the metal fence that surrounds the 24-foot-deep lake.

In a statement to police, Arnos West said that on the night of April 23, Parker and he had visited a bar and friends.

"He also related to the police that "Mrs. Parker seemed angered about some matter and that he took her for a drive to cool off," reported the Afro-American.

"After she got out of the car on Cloverdale Road, near the park, and started walking, he told police he became worried and followed her and later spotted her climbing over the 15-foot high iron railing around the lake.

"He said he handed her purse to her after she was persuaded not to enter the lake, he stated, and then drove her home," reported the newspaper.

Later that week, West told police, he was driving by Druid Lake and saw Parker's purse hanging on the iron fence.

However, Parker's mother, Theresa Wright, contradicted West's statement and said her daughter never returned to their home in the 1700 block W. Fayette St. that night.

Wright became alarmed after a week when her report filed with the Missing Persons Bureau yielded no information about her daughter. Wright's report described Parker as wearing a yellow blouse and a rust-colored coat.

As readers flooded the Afro-American with suggestions of what might have happened to Shirley Parker, an East Baltimore medium said she was still getting vibrations in the case and promised soon to have an answer.

Later, after Parker's body was found, Dr. Ronald Kornblum, an assistant medical examiner, reported that the body showed no gunshot or stab wounds and that it was "possible other indications of foul play had been washed or decayed away," reported the Afro-American.

In response to the suggestion that she drowned herself, Kornblum told the newspaper, "No, she did not. It is possible she was drowned. So far we find it possible she was drowned."

"Several causes of death had been ruled out. She wasn't strangled, stabbed or used narcotics. There were no needle marks, and we were particularly interested in whether she died this way," said Dr. Edward Wilson, an assistant medical examiner, in an interview with the paper.

What baffled police was how Parker's body got to the top of the fountain in the first place.

"It is possible she was drowned before she was placed in the fountain," suggested Kornblum.

"It is not easy to swim out there; and the water is always real cold," said Joseph Patterson, one of the fountain electricians, in an Afro interview.

"You can see the entire floor of the lake from the fountain. But 10 feet from the fountain, the water is black. This means that the water is deeper there than in the rest of the lake. No sunlight can get down there," he said.

On June 7, 1969, after funeral services, Parker was buried in a gray metal casket at Carver Memorial Park in Laurel.

"It remains a questionable death but was never a murder," Sgt. Roger Nolan, supervisor of the Baltimore Police Department's Cold Case Squad, said yesterday.

"There was no force or trauma to the body and she most likely died of hypothermia," he said.

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