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DNA leads to indictment in Arundel serial killings

Mary Elaine Shereika was a dedicated runner, posting six to 10 miles a day no matter what. Her daughter remembers her coming home with ice in her hair from running in weather so cold that her perspiration froze.

And she was a careful runner, always hitting the pavement during the daytime and in her own neighborhood.

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Shereika, 37, was attacked one morning in May 1988, just a mile from her house on Maytime Drive. A man dragged her into a rye field, then sexually assaulted, beat, stabbed and strangled her.

Her killer, police say, tore through not only Shereika's family but also three others - leaving six children without mothers and one mother without her only daughter.

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Anne Arundel County police believe that man is Alexander Wayne Watson Jr., 34. He was indicted yesterday by a county grand jury on three counts of first-degree murder. In Shereika's case, the additional charges of first- and second-degree rape are aggravating factors that make him eligible for the death penalty. Prosecutors say they will consult with the woman's family before deciding whether to pursue it.

Watson was already serving life in prison for murder in Prince George's County when, police say, they linked him through DNA evidence to three killings in Anne Arundel County dating back more than a decade.

Until last week, those Anne Arundel families and communities had no answers. They didn't know their stories would eventually be tied to a man who police say was a serial killer who lived in the same neighborhoods as his victims and began killing just after his 17th birthday.

The immigrant

Boontem Andersen had the day off from her job in a dining hall at Fort Meade.

It was Oct. 8, 1986, and she had spent the morning at her home on Snow Hill Lane in the quiet Four Seasons neighborhood of Gambrills.

Andersen, 34, was a mother of two, though her children lived with their father. The Thailand native had recently gotten engaged to Ralph J. Musser, 36, a sergeant at Fort Meade.

She spoke to a friend on the phone at 1 p.m. A short time later, police say, a teenager who was acquainted with Musser's family and lived with his parents on nearby Spring Lake Court entered the house and sexually assaulted, stabbed and strangled her.

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Her bound, unclothed body was found by the 11-year-old son of Andersen's fiance.

Police say they notified her children last week that Watson had been charged. His indictment yesterday in Andersen's murder included charges of first- and second-degree rape, but because he was a minor at the time, Watson would not be eligible for the death penalty in this case, prosecutors say.

Police said Andersen's relatives did not want to discuss the case, and attempts to reach them were unsuccessful.

The student

Lisa Kathleen Haenel, a straight-A student at Old Mill High, was her mother's life.

"When she was growing up, I used to say, 'It is just you and me, kid,'" her mother, Meg Enck, told The Sun in October 1999.

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Enck could not be reached for comment last week.

Lisa liked ladybugs, and the Enck house in Millersville is decorated with ladybug flags and stained glass. She baby-sat neighborhood kids and tutored fellow students - even those two years older than she was - in algebra.

At 5 feet 7, the hazel-eyed freshman with shoulder-length brown hair stood taller than many of her classmates.

On Jan. 15, 1993, the 14-year-old cut through a path from her family's Glen Burnie apartment, in the same complex where Watson had been living at the time, to the high school.

That afternoon, a Friday, Lisa didn't come home.

Her mother called police, and the next morning Enck's boyfriend found Lisa's body in a ravine off the path. She had been strangled and stabbed; her blue Old Mill band jacket lay a few feet away.

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School that next week was tough, recalls Mary Gable, Old Mill's principal at the time.

Kids worried about walking to school, and administrators and teachers reminded them to walk in pairs and stick to sidewalks.

"We were ill at ease for a long time," Gable says.

P. Thomas Shanahan, then an Anne Arundel police captain, remembers the community being desperate for answers.

"This all-American girl can't even walk to school? It causes people to lose faith in the police and lose confidence in their own safety," says Shanahan, now the police chief.

"It was hard to tell people, 'We don't know who did this.'"

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The office manager

Kirk Nicodemus had told his office manager to head home, but she didn't want to leave just yet.

"Debra, what are you doing?" Nicodemus, owner of the small school fund-raising business on D'Arcy Road in Prince George's County, recalls asking her on his way out that June 13, 1994.

"I gotta count this money," she replied.

He reminded her to keep the door locked, and he left.

Debra Cobb, 37, lived with her husband and two sons in Largo. Both boys - one in high school and one in junior high - played basketball, and their mother loved to watch their games.

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She was an attractive lady, Nicodemus says, who often wore her hair in cornrows and had a bright smile and an easy way with customers.

About 15 minutes after her boss left, Cobb sat alone in the locked office counting money. The manager of a moving company upstairs knocked on the door, according to court records. The man asked to use the bathroom, and she let him.

Later that evening, Nicodemus says, Cobb's husband, worried about why his wife hadn't come home, drove to the office.

His wife had been handcuffed, robbed and stabbed 14 times, according to court records.

Police soon arrested Watson, the manager upstairs. They'd found Cobb's employee identification card in his desk and he confessed, court records state. He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In a letter to a judge before his sentencing in December 1994, Watson blamed Cobb's killing on a crack cocaine addiction and said he'd made "a terrible mistake."

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Cobb's death left the handful of employees at Nicodemus and Associates - now USA Fundraising Network - grief-stricken, Nicodemus says.

"It was beyond imagination," he says. "I remember every single second of it. She was everything to us."

They knew it must have been far worse for her family.

A year after his mother's death, Nicodemus says, her eldest son died of a brain tumor.

The longest run

Mary Elaine Shereika had been going through a lot of changes since her divorce.

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She was raising two teenagers on her own in the family's Four Seasons house. She had started working - her divorce lawyer had hired her as a legal secretary. She'd met a man and gotten engaged.

She'd even highlighted and cut her long, curly dark hair.

But she'd never stopped running.

She kept a running journal and tried to get her kids involved. They'd follow her sometimes, on foot or on a bicycle. The children always cheered her on at races.

On May 23, 1988, her office and Shereika's fiance both called police later that day to report her missing. Her brutalized body was found in a rye field not far from Waugh Chapel Road.

Her two children, Dan, then 13, and Jennifer, then 16, went to live with different relatives on different coasts. Dan stayed in Maryland with his father; Jennifer moved to California to live with her mother's oldest sister.

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Now 33 and living in southwest Virginia with two girls of her own, Jennifer Shereika says she and her brother have remained close. He is now in sales and lives in the Washington area.

Shereika's life is filled with reminders of her mother: Her 13-year-old daughter is named after her and is "the spitting image" of her. An oil painting of her mother, her brother and herself hangs in the hallway. And Shereika has kept her mother's running journals and scrapbooks.

Her mother had told her kids that if she died, she wanted her ashes spread on the roads that had served as her track.

It was difficult for Jennifer and Dan to carry out that wish.

"We knew that's what brought her peace ... running those roads every day," Jennifer Shereika says. "But knowing that that's how she died - where she died - it was tough."

In the end, they spread Mary Shereika's ashes along Waugh Chapel Road, stopping just short of the rye field.

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Sun staff writer Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.


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