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Back Story: Guilford executive killed wife at Falls Road farm in 1957

My column several weeks ago on the brutal 1956 murder of Myrtle Agnes Bopst brought a flood of emails from people who vividly remembered it. One reader, Turney McKnight, recalled the murder a year later of a Baltimore socialite at the hands of her husband, a lumber executive.

After attending a cocktail party June 1, Robert Jett Van Horn, 52, and his wife of two years, Bernice Ward Flynn Van Horn, 53, decided not to spend the night at Eden Hall Apartments at 3401 Greenway, but at Evergreen Farm, their second home, on Falls Road near Shawan in northern Baltimore County.

Saturday night reverie suddenly turned into a deadly rage when the couple began arguing. As they entered the farmhouse, Bernice Van Horn struck her husband's face with her pocketbook.

He told police at the time of his arrest that his wife had made a "sharp remark."

"I actually saw red," he said.

Enraged, Van Horn beat his wife, proceeding from the steps of the house to a large tree across the yard almost 40 feet away.

"I struck her with my fists and anything else that was available, from the looks of her," he confessed.

The attack was so violent that police found blood at the base of the tree and strands of Bernice Van Horn's hair embedded in its bark. Every one of her ribs was crushed, deep cuts in her scalp went to the bone, and her spine was broken.

After he realized that his wife was dead, Van Horn placed her battered body into his 1956 DeSoto station wagon and drove around Baltimore "to places we had been together," he told police, before tossing her body down a nearby 30-foot embankment near Joppa Road and Interstate 83, then under construction.

He returned to Eden Hall, changed out of his bloodstained suit and drove to the Hanover Street Bridge, where he disposed of it into the waters of the Patapsco River.

Afterward, he drove to his office at the Sierra Lumber Co. at 1901 E. Fort Ave., where he composed two letters, one to county police and the other to his secretary.

In one letter he wrote, "May God rest her lovely soul and may He in His wisdom find means to forgive my horrible act of violence."

Sunday evening, Van Horn returned to the place where he had dumped the body. About 8:30 p.m., police in a patrol car found him sitting at the wheel of his car with a glass of whiskey in one hand and a loaded .32-caliber pistol in the other.

As police approached, he threatened to kill himself. He had been busy writing an odd letter to his dead wife that was part confession and a plea for forgiveness, and part blaming her for provoking the incident.

"Good-bye darling, wherever you are," he began his letter. "Please believe that I am desolate at losing you and heart broken that I made it so. If only you had eased off once in a while!"

He continued: "You have contributed to my being a murderer. Never did I fly off the handle in such a fashion and, of course, there will never be another."

It took an hour before police were able to distract Van Horn and place him under arrest. The coroner stated that he had not run over his wife with his car, as had been rumored at the time.

The Baltimore Country Club and Maryland Club member appeared before a three-judge panel, pleading insanity. He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years at the Maryland State Penitentiary.

Paroled in 1960, he moved in with his father, a retired Baltimore & Ohio Railroad executive, and his mother, who lived at the Ambassador Apartments on Canterbury Road. He returned to work at his lumber company.

He quietly resumed his life and eventually faded from the scene until 1969, when he married Evelyn Monte, a wealthy widow, and moved to Manhattan. In 1981, the couple retired to a wealthy retirement community in Southbury, Conn.

Van Horn, who was then 83, had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, and had appeared depressed, a niece, Lyn M. McKee, told The New York Times in a June 2, 1987, interview.

During the last week of May 1987, Van Horn took a shotgun and killed his wife, 83, and then shot himself.

As he had done with the murder of his first wife, he left behind a note, whose contents police refused to disclose.

McKee, apparently unaware of Van Horn's history, said in the newspaper interview that the couple had both been married previously and that he had been "widowed."

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