It was around 2:30 on a Friday afternoon, and Sterling Palmer and his wife Evelyn were hungry. He started making an egg salad sandwich, and she stepped out to buy her own lunch.
She returned no more than 20 minutes later.
The rented house on Edison Highway next to Baltimore's Erdman Shopping Center appeared empty. The egg salad sat half-made on the kitchen counter. No one was upstairs. The couple's cockapoo dog, Kelly, circled and yelped at the cellar door, which was ajar.
Evelyn Scott-Palmer pushed the door open. "I flipped on the light and there he was at the bottom of the stairs," she recalled Tuesday. She rushed down and pressed her lips to his, trying to breathe some life into her husband of 10 years, her sweetheart for the past half-century.
"I tried," the 70-year-old said. "But I felt in my heart he was gone the moment I saw him."
Police and paramedics arrived and at first thought the 78-year-old had fallen down the stairs. They turned over his body and saw he had been stabbed. He was Baltimore's 164th homicide victim of the year, a tally that, with a wave of weekend violence, climbed to 171 by Monday.
It also is one of the killings that have left homicide detectives stumped. Family and friends have theories about what happened during his wife's 20-minute absence — that he let in someone he knew, someone who knew he usually kept up to $300 in his pants pocket, and who knew that he freely lent money to friends and associates.
Strangers did not get inside the Palmer house. Kelly barks a warning as soon as anyone gets close to the back porch or rings the front doorbell. "You don't get in this door if he don't know you," said Sterling's best friend, James McNeal, 75. "Whoever did this knew him or he knew them."
Police confirmed that they are investigating whether Palmer knew his killer and that it is somehow linked to cash that he doled out to acquaintances. But his wife didn't know how much money he had on him, and police said it appears nothing was taken. Authorities won't comment on whether they found a weapon, but a department spokesman said detectives have few leads.
The police remain perplexed as the widow mourns. The funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at Dalton Baptist Church, 4302 Garrison Blvd. He is survived by two sisters, a former wife and several children from his first marriage.
Palmer met his current wife in 1959 when he was a motorman for the No. 15 trolley, which ran up Gay Street. Evelyn Scott was a passenger, heading from her home in East Baltimore to a babysitting job on Frankford Avenue.
"I got on, and he asked me, was my husband married?" she recalled. He said it with a sly smile, a backhanded way of asking if she was married. "I just smiled and said no."
Sterling Palmer was 26 at the time and already divorced. Evelyn Scott was 19. The two fell in love and stayed together for the next 51 years, though friends and family finally convinced them to make their union official 10 years ago.
By that point, Palmer had already been retired from the Maryland Transit Administration for three years, having spent four decades there as a motorman for the trolleys and, when they were phased out, as a bus driver.
"He never met a person he wouldn't help," said McNeal, who worked alongside him as an MTA coachman. "He would give you a hand if he could."
The two friends and their wives joined a traveling club when they retired and took trips that included New Hampshire, Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama. Other than traveling, Palmer led a simple life — he stayed home and washed and waxed his car and truck, which is how many of his neighbors got to know him.
Evelyn Scott-Palmer said she doesn't know anyone who was angry with her husband or who wanted to cause him harm. She's back inside her house. Sympathy cards line the mantel, and pictures of her and her husband from various trips are scattered on the kitchen table.
"It would be a big help to find out who did it," she said.
She said she has no intention of moving.
"They took him from me but they can't take away the rest of my life," she said. "This is my house. I just have to stay."