Howard mother, 3 children fatally shot

The Baltimore Sun

UNITY, Md. -- A 43-year-old flight attendant living in Howard County and her three young children were shot to death by her former husband on Thanksgiving at a small park where she had gone to turn the children over to him for a visit, police said yesterday. His body was found nearby, along with a rifle he apparently used to kill them and himself.

Despite a bitter and protracted divorce granted earlier this year, Gail Louise Pumphrey, of Woodbine, drove her two boys, ages 6 and 12, and her 10-year-old daughter to a pre-arranged spot so they could spend part of the holiday with their father, David Peter Brockdorff, 40.

Police believe Brockdorff, an electrician who lived in Frederick, shot his ex-wife and daughter in her Ford Taurus and his two boys in the stolen Nissan Altima he drove to the Unity Park.

"It was a pretty horrific scene," said Assistant Chief Wayne Jerman of the Montgomery County Police Department.

Jerman said Pumphrey arrived about 4:30 p.m. at the secluded park in Unity, near the Howard County line and a short drive from a home they once shared.

Five hours later, a park police officer found her and the children in the two cars, the engines still running.

Brockdorff's body was discovered in the woods about 100 yards away. He apparently committed suicide with the same 22-caliber rifle he used to kill his family, police said.

The rifle was the only weapon found at the crime scene, police said. It was purchased in 1993 in Pennsylvania, but authorities do not know whether the weapon was registered to Brockdorff, said a police spokeswoman.

The names of the children will not be released until their schools have been notified, Jerman said. A neighbor of Pumphrey's in Western Howard County said the children attended public schools in the area.

Police said they suspect a "domestic-related" motive in the slayings. They said they did not know why the couple arranged to meet in the Montgomery County park.

Brockdorff and Pumphrey were recently divorced. Court records show a lengthy criminal and civil case history for the alleged killer, including financial problems and domestic-violence allegations by his former wife.

Pumphrey filed for divorce in November 2005, but the dissolution wasn't made official until January of this year, held up by protracted court disputes about custody, child support and other issues, records show.

The couple's divorce was "pretty contentious," said Samuel Williamowsky, a Montgomery County lawyer who represented David Brockdorff.

"There were issues with parenting skills, what time one is going to pick up and one is going to drop off. They had every sort of problem from soup to nuts," he said.

The couples' disputes continued after their divorce was final in January.

In September, Pumphrey filed a petition for contempt of court, claiming that Brockdorff had failed to pay court-ordered child support. Last month, he was arrested and held for about a week after failing to appear at a hearing, according to records. He also failed to appear this month for a subsequent hearing, records show.

Williamowsky, reached at home yesterday, said he could not remember the specifics of the domestic abuse allegations that Pumphrey brought against Brockdorff. His client never appeared to be a violent man, he said.

The lawyer described the three children as "very bright, attractive" and "good kids." Despite the couple's many conflicts, "The funny thing about it is they never really put the kids in the middle," he said.

A judge determined that they would share legal custody of the children but that Pumphrey would have sole physical custody.

Public court records describe Brockdorff as 6-feet-2 and 200 pounds. He lived in the 9400 block of Prospect Hill Place in Frederick, about 26 miles from Woodbine, police said.

While the couple was still married, Pumphrey won a $13,030 judgment against her husband in a Frederick County domestic violence case, according to electronic court records. More recently, she secured a protective order against him after an April court hearing. The outcome of a May hearing to extend the protective order was unclear yesterday.

Brockdorff was also scheduled to appear next month in court on charges that he burglarized Pumphrey's home in November 2006. In addition to the child support, $700 in monthly court-ordered alimony and the domestic violence judgment, Brockdorff had a history of financial troubles, with liens against him dating from 1997, records show, and several recent suits by creditors totaling more than $10,000.

State property records show that in 2003 Brockdorff and Pumphrey sold a $250,000 house in Damascus, a short drive from the tiny park where the slaying occurred.

Last spring, Pumphrey moved into a neighborhood of single-family homes on large lots on Bellis Drive in Woodbine in western Howard County.

Current and former neighbors recalled yesterday signs of tension in the couple's relationship.

Margaret Waller, a neighbor in Woodbine, said Pumphrey told her that her former husband "wasn't a very nice guy."

"I know she's had trouble with him for a long time," Waller said.

The couple's children were "lovely" kids who ran around with a pack of neighborhood youngsters and did not seem to be affected by their parents' troubled relationship, Waller said.

Neighbors in Damascus, where the family lived until 2003, recalled Pumphrey saying that she was afraid of her husband.

Before the couple divorced, Pumphrey confided to neighbor Earlene Voith that her husband had a drug problem and once spat in her face, Voith said.

After she moved away and divorced, Pumphrey continued to visit Voith and complained to her that Brockdorff was physically violent and harassed her over the phone, the neighbor recalled.

Voith, crying as she held a Christmas photo of the family from a few years ago, said that she was shaken when she heard about the shootings, but "it's even worse knowing who it is."

Ellis Shupe, 72, who lives near the couple's former home in Damascus, said, "He was a nice neighbor. He did some [electrical] work for us. Didn't charge us for his work. ... They seemed like a normal couple."

The victims and Brockdorff were all pronounced dead at the scene, but Jerman, with the Montgomery County police, said it was not known how long they were dead before being discovered by the Maryland National Capital Park Police. Preliminary autopsies of the bodies were completed yesterday morning by the state medical examiner's office in Baltimore, Jerman said.

Jerman said the murder-suicide was the worst such crime in the county since a 1995 Potomac incident in which a handyman allegedly killed a homeowner, his three daughters and another housepainter.

Thursday's killings bring the yearly homicide count in Montgomery County to 15, Jerman said. Of those, nine victims were killed in domestic-related incidents. Seven were killed by their parents.

In another case this year, four children were found dead March 26 in their Frederick townhouse. The body of their father, 28-year-old Pedro Rodriguez, was found hanged in the foyer.

Police concluded that the father killed the children and himself. The children's mother has never been found, and police fear that she also might have been harmed.

Sun reporters Larry Carson and Julie Bykowicz contributed to this article.

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