Four days before Christmas, police said, Michael Gladney confronted his former boss at the Mount Washington Tavern, hit him in the head with a hammer and stole a roll of money totaling $200.
The 41-year-old raced from the North Baltimore restaurant and ran through the woods, where he apparently slipped on ice, tumbled down a steep embankment, hit his head on a rock and died, investigators said.
Not knowing the man's fate, police took out a warrant charging Gladney with assault and robbery after the Dec. 21 incident.
Eleven days later, on Monday, a tavern worker walking near the 20-foot-high embankment spotted Gladney's body partially submerged in the Jones Falls, near where witnesses said they had seen the robbery suspect flee.
Police said a blue-handled hammer and $200 believed to have been taken from the tavern were found by his side.
Gladney's death has been ruled questionable by the state medical examiner, pending routine drug and alcohol tests. But police said yesterday that they believe Gladney's death was an accident and not caused by any tavern employee or the result of a chase.
"That was going to be his getaway," said homicide unit Detective Homer Pennington. He said it appears Gladney, who lived in the 2600 block of Seamon Ave. in Cherry Hill, slipped on ice in the dark. "It is weird," he said.
Police said the manager who was robbed and injured, whose identity was not available yesterday, had named Gladney as his attacker. A manager at the tavern declined to comment yesterday.
Gladney's stepfather, James Ireland, 50, said his son had worked as a dishwasher and later as a cook at the tavern since he had gotten out of jail in November 1999 for assaulting his girlfriend.
Ireland said Gladney was fired several weeks ago after being accused of stealing from the restaurant. He described his son as angry over the termination.
"We're not sure what went down or how he got killed," Ireland said yesterday. He said he thinks tavern employees chased his stepson after the robbery, and he wonders why they stopped when Gladney disappeared over the embankment.
"Didn't they look?" Ireland said. "It's kind of suspicious. We're in the dark, waiting for something from the detectives."
Pennington said there is no evidence anyone chased Gladney after the incident.
Funeral plans were not complete yesterday, family members said.