Harold Aaron Rose, a retired Baltimore City Police Department homicide detective who investigated 1960s murder cases and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, died Nov. 25 at Seasons Hospice Center. The Catonsville resident was 91 and had suffered a fall in his home.
He was born in Baltimore, the son of Sam Rose, a Rutter Street neighborhood tavern owner, and his wife, Lena. He attended Baltimore City College and left school at 16 to work for the Social Security Administration at its Candler Building location. He later got an educational equivalency diploma.
He joined the Baltimore City Police Department in 1948 and became a much-praised investigator of crimes.
He married attorney Sandra A. O’Connor in 1976. They met each other at the courthouse when each was trying a murder case.
“Harold was initially not enthusiastic about me," she said. “He said he did not like a woman trying one of his murder cases. That was the beginning our 43 years together.” Ms. O’Connor later became Baltimore County state’s attorney.
A 1979 Baltimore Sun article described Mr. Rose as a “crack homicide detective” and listed several of his high-profile cases, including the murder of Curtis Bay resident Elizabeth White; the 1969 death of the popular Greenmount Avenue tavern owner, Martin “Mickey” Griffin, who was gunned down in a robbery; and the execution-style murders of Howard Street shoe store owners Robert and Marie Jordan.
While in the police department, he made a cameo appearance with actor Lee Marvin, who was filming a 1964 show, “The Lawbreakers,” in an episode about a Baltimore County cat burglar.
He also investigated the 1969 disappearance and death of 11-year-old Esther Lebowitz, a student at Bais Yaakov School for Girls, who dropped out of sight from the Park Heights Avenue shopping district in Northwest Baltimore.
News accounts said her body was found days later in a field off the side of a road. The medical examiner said she had been killed with a hammer. Part of her body was covered in sand and blue paint, which led police to a tropical fish store in Park Heights where Wayne Steven Young worked. Convicted of the girl’s murder, he died in 2016 while still incarcerated.
Mr. Rose was working when Sister Catherine Anne “Cathy” Cesnik was reported missing in 1969 from her North Bend Road apartment near the western Baltimore City line.
″He got the first call she was missing, and I assume they directed it over to homicide," said his wife.
The unsolved death of Sister Cathy became the subject of the series “The Keepers.”
Mr. Rose retired from the department in 1973. He was then named chief investigator for the Office of the Baltimore City State’s Attorney.
In 1977 he was chosen to be an investigator on a House of Representatives committee investigating the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was assigned to the Kennedy case.
“It was one of his greatest career moments when he was appointed,” said his wife.
Accounts in The Sun said Mr. Rose went on to spend nearly two years reviewing the Kennedy assassination and going over evidence that had been reported earlier in the Warren Commission report.
He interviewed members of the Secret Service, the Dallas Police Department and right-wing militants.
“The only thing you can do with an 16-year-old murder like this is to re-interview everyone and try to find people who have never been interviewed before,” he said in a 1979 article.
He also said, “I don’t think the people in this country or in the world will ever be totally satisfied, regardless of what is found. Anytime you have a man killed and his murderer is murdered and the man who does that is dead, all you have is a mystery,” he said of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, who was shot and killed by Jack Ruby two days after the Kennedy death.
He believed that a mystery surrounding the Kennedy assassination was created by crime writers and that whatever facts he turned up, skeptics would never trust his investigation.
“I don’t think you will ever convince people who are hard-line that this is not a conspiracy,” he said.
He described standing at the window where Lee Harvey Oswald is widely assumed to have fired at President Kennedy in Dallas. He also studied Dealey Plaza, where the assassin’s bullets struck the president.
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“He went into the investigation thinking there was a conspiracy and cane out believing it was a simple case of murder,” said his wife.
In retirement Mr. Rose enjoyed following professional sports and college sports. He was also a duckpin bowler.
“I was working the Turk Scott case, " said his wife. “There were threats and I was given a ride home from the police after the end of the day at that trial. Harold said he would drive me, every night but Thursday. That was his bowling night.”