Brian Jarrell was heading to his kitchen for a middle-of-the-night glass of water Monday when he noticed a chemical odor seeping from his 9-year-old son's room. The Dundalk father checked on the boy and a younger daughter also sleeping in the room.
And then he saw a figure hiding behind the door of an armoire.
The man fled, but Jarrell chased him down. Later, he found a rag doused in a chemical, where his son had been sleeping.
"I just got sick," the father said yesterday, "because I realized he was after my son."
Police have charged a 49-year- old man - free since April after spending nearly all of the past three decades in prison - with an attempted sex offense and burglary. And yesterday police issued an alert to parents and anyone else who might have recently smelled any odd chemicals in their home.
"If for example, one morning somebody had found a smelly rag outside a window, they might not have thought much about it, but in light of current events it might have more significance," said Bill Toohey, a county police spokesman. "Call us."
Immediately after the suspect's arrest, a neighbor found the boy lethargic and confused. The children's hair smelled of a chemical, police said, adding that the boy had a discoloration on his nose and that a chemical had stained the bedsheets. Police did not identify the chemical.
Detectives were told that a man had been seen by one of the children two days earlier in their backyard, but had fled.
Richard Lewis Marks, 49, was charged Tuesday with an attempted first-degree sex offense, five counts of assault, burglary and resisting arrest. He was being held at the county Detention Center without bond.
Marks' criminal record includes convictions for burglary and assault. Although he has faced sex offense allegations in the past, he was not convicted of any of them, court records show.
He had been living in recent months with his mother in the 1900 block of Guy Way in Dundalk, about a half-mile from the Jarrell home. After arresting Marks, investigators obtained a search warrant for his home and found binoculars, rubber gloves, pornographic literature and information on chemicals and drugs, including GHB, known as the date rape drug, police said.
Mothers sat on porches yesterday on Guy Way, talking about the disturbing news and keeping a close eye on their children.
"I got chills all over when I heard," said Danielle Buck, a mother of three, as she chatted with a neighbor.
Marks' mother, Addie Garlitz, 70, said she has little sympathy for her son.
"I don't know what is wrong with him," she said. "I want everybody to know I'm not supporting him."
She said that her son had learning disabilities and had dropped out of school after the seventh grade.
Most of the court documents in Marks' previous cases have been destroyed because of their age. But docket entries - combined with interviews with county prosecutors and state parole and prison officials - show that he has spent all but about nine months of the past 33 years behind bars.
Marks was first arrested in May 1974 at age 16, and convicted of burglary and assault, records show. A Baltimore County jury acquitted him of assault with intent to rape. He was sentenced to eight years in prison. He was later convicted of assault with intent to murder and burglary, earning another 16 years in prison.
Tanya Smith, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Parole Commission, said that Marks was released in 1990, when he had earned enough "diminution credits" for good behavior, working and attending education programs. He was arrested four months later and charged with burglary, sex offenses, perverted practice, assault, battery, theft and breaking and entering.
Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger said that prosecutors pursued the maximum sentence for Marks - 25 years without the possibility of parole - under the state's repeat-offender statutes.
In 1991, Marks pleaded guilty to one count of burglary and prosecutors dismissed the remaining charges.
"We didn't pursue the sex offenses because we thought we were getting 25 years with no parole," Shellenberger said, adding that the alleged sex crimes would have been difficult to prove.
State law did not require convicted sex offenders in Maryland to register with authorities until 1996.
This year, after Marks had earned enough diminution credits, he was transferred to home detention March 26 and was released by the state prison system on April 30.
Marks was to have remained on supervised release until 2016.
He told court officials after his arrest this week that he had been working for the past month as a lane attendant at a bowling alley in Eastpoint, court records show.
Jarrell and his wife, Melinda, said yesterday that they did not know Marks. They recounted the events leading to his most recent arrest.
Jarrell said he woke up about 2:30 a.m. to go to the bathroom and get a drink of water. When he smelled the chemical odor, his first thought was that his son had spilled food in his room and had used a household product to clean it up. When he came back upstairs from the kitchen, the odor was stronger, he said.
He turned on the light in the bedroom and saw his son, who was facing the wall with a blanket against his face. The boy's 6-year-old sister was sleeping beside him in the bed because her room was too hot.
As Jarrell turned to leave the room, he noticed a man trying to squeeze inside an armoire, he recalled. The man then took off.
Jarrell, 38, who stands 6 feet 2 and weighs 270 pounds, eventually tackled the intruder in the front yard. A neighbor called police.
Jarrell said yesterday that he almost never wakes up before 4 a.m., when he typically rises to get ready for work.
"I can't explain why I woke up when I did," he said. "It was a miracle. I only thank God."
Melinda Jarrell said she grew up in the house and knows all of her neighbors and has never felt the need to lock her doors. She and her husband believe the intruder might have entered through an unlocked back door.
She said she will never leave her doors unlocked again.
Sun reporter Laura Barnhardt contributed to this article.