Bodies in the water: eerie, strange and so Baltimore

The Baltimore Sun

There's New Jersey's Pine Barrens, New York's East River and Baltimore's Leakin Park.

Infamous body dumping grounds all.

Do we add to the list the Inner and Northwest harbors and other waterways that wash up against downtown, Federal Hill, Canton and Locust Point? More bodies have surfaced from those watery graves in March (four) than in Leakin Park in all of this year (one).

There was the body near the Broadway Pier in Fells Point on March 9; the body near the paddle boats in the Inner Harbor on March 19; the body near Thames Street in Fells Point on March 22; and the body near Fort McHenry on March 27. Two were men, ages 21 and 26; the others, a man and a woman, remain unidentified.

Even in Baltimore - where we try to stop violence and at the same time cash in on its television appeal - this seems a bit much. Bodies do float to the surface in the warm days of spring. "The only thing that is unusual is the time frame," Officer Troy Harris, a city police spokesman, told me.

Investigators have not determined how the people died. Some could have been in the water for weeks, months or even years and were dumped or fell in a long way from the harbor. I am in no way suggesting that the mob or drug dealers have suddenly discovered a new place to dispose of people caught up in their work-related disputes. To put things in proper perspective: The man found dead in Leakin Park in February had been shot.

Still, news of bodies floating in the harbor is a bit unsettling. I ventured down to Fells Point to see how the community was coping, only to find Baltimore once again transformed into Hollywood's favorite crime scene.

Crews from Fox-TV had taken over the Broadway Pier - Thames Street was blanketed in a tangle of wires, lights and lined with trucks, cops directing traffic and men with walkie-talkies barking orders and keeping onlookers away. They were filming a scene from as-yet-untitled pilot show about investigators who use reincarnation to solve current-day problems and crime.

The irony is so thick my head hurts. I saw men carrying cameras sporting jackets emblazoned with Homicide: Life on the Street working in the shadows of their old stomping grounds, the building on the water that served as police headquarters for the long-dead show (the blue police insignia is still there). Across the street at the Daily Grind, assistant manager Lindsey Shanklin noted how exciting it was that they were filming in the neighborhood again, and that one of the actors is a regular.

The bodies? "We don't talk about it because people who live here don't want to," she said.

But there is one they do talk about. Ryan Davis, 26, was found March 9 near the Broadway Pier. He had worked as a bartender in Fells Point, most recently as extra summer help for the John Steven pub on Thames Street. Bartender Lauren Ciemny recalled an outgoing, blond-haired young man who drank vodka and Diet Coke at shift change and biked to work. He disappeared Jan. 11, and for the two months he was missing his picture hung in the windows of Fells Point taverns. "I was really upset," Ciemny said. "I don't know whether he slipped and fell in or if something happened to him."

Four bodies in four weeks in the harbor got people talking. It's eerie, it's strange, it's so Baltimore. They're talking for a different reason in Fells Point. They can put a face on a victim, and it's not eerie or strange but tragic. We don't know who two of the others are, and police tell me the fourth has been identified but that they have not been able to find his relatives. That's just sad.

Because of incorrect information supplied by the Baltimore Police Department, a Crime & Courts column published Wednesday provided an incorrect age for Ryan M. Davis, whose body was found March 9 in the Inner Harbor near Fells Point. He was 33.The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.
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