Police investigating body found in woods as a homicide

Bicyclist finds body on trail in city's Armistead Gardens neighborhood; police investigating as homicide.

The body of a man who had sustained so much trauma that police detectives were unable to immediately determine what killed him was found Wednesday on a wooded trail on the edge of the Armistead Gardens neighborhood in East Baltimore.

The crime scene was deep beyond the tree line at the bottom of a rolling grassy property owned by Northeast Baptist Church, described on a faded white sign as "God's Church in the Woods," founded in 1968.

Detective Donny Moses, a police spokesman, said homicide detectives were still early in their investigation into the man's death on Wednesday afternoon. But he said they were sure that "whoever killed him meant to kill him."

A bicyclist riding on one of the trails that cut through the wooded area — which surrounds Herring Run just north of where Interstate 895 and U.S. 40 cross — came across the body on the trail and called police about 10:30 a.m., said Detective Niki Fennoy, a police spokeswoman. The man had "obvious signs of trauma," Fennoy said, but she did not know if he had been shot, stabbed or injured in some other way.

The trails that cut through the woods appear designed for mountain biking.

The investigation drew a large number of police detectives, Fire Department search-and-rescue personnel and members of the medical examiner's office to the 1400 block of Horners Lane, which dead-ends at Northeast Baptist Church. A police helicopter flew in tight circles above the scene and landed in a nearby field between flights, as neighborhood residents gathered to watch.

Shortly before 2:30 p.m., officials drove out of the woods on a Baltimore Fire Department four-wheel-drive hazmat vehicle carrying the man's body in a white bag. Investigators and rescue personnel had previously ridden into the woods with a buoyant body board and a generator, which police did not explain. Area residents snapped pictures as the body was moved into a medical examiner's van.

Fennoy said police did not have suspects in the killing, nor do they know of a motive or the victim's identity. They asked anyone with information to call police at 410-396-2100.

Carl Benkowski, a 31-year-old lifelong resident of the neighborhood, said people hunt illegally in the woods, and at times gunfire can be heard, as if people are conducting target practice. A month ago, while hiking with his children, he came across a large number of 9-mm shells, he said. On a recent morning, shots rang out and sounded like they were coming from just behind his house, which prompted him to gather his three children in the kitchen of his home for safety.

"They go back here shooting all the time. That don't surprise me," Benkowski said. "Finding a dead body surprises me."

krector@baltsun.com

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