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Carjacking murder of Pam Basu subject of former county cop's book

Family and police photos helped illustrate James Lilley's book on Pam Basu's death.
Family and police photos helped illustrate James Lilley's book on Pam Basu's death. (Staff photo by Sarah Pastrana)

No one who lived in Howard County 20 years ago is likely to have forgotten the horrendous carjacking and murder of Pam Basu. On Sept. 8, 1992, the Savage mother was taking her 2-year-old daughter to her first day of nursery school when two men pulled her from her car. Struggling to rescue her daughter, Basu became entangled in a seat belt and was dragged to her death.

The brutal crime received world-wide publicity, led to federal anti-carjacking legislation and continues to be cited in reference and legal books.

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But the first book on the incident, "Fatal Destiny: The Carjacking Murder of Dr. Pam Basu," was published only a couple of months ago by retired Howard County police sergeant and author James H. Lilley.

"It's always surprised me that no one ever touched the story," he says, referring not only to books, but to possible television shows. Perhaps the details of this case were just too gruesome, the Mount Airy resident speculates.

Lilley began his research, which included dozens of interviews, in 1994 — "The original title was 'A Day in September,' and then9/11happened," he says — when state Sen. James Robey, Lilley's former partner on the county's narcotics squad, was still police chief. As chief, Robey approved Lilley's access to all files on the case. These, plus court documents, photos and notes covered his dining room table and every chair, in well-organized clockwise fashion for five or six months.

During the same time, Lilley was working on other writing projects, shopping books around and, beginning in 2001, finally getting published some of the other "16 or more" volumes he had been producing since 1981.

The Marine-turned-cop and martial arts expert, owner of his own academy (last year becoming the first American awarded a ninth-degree black belt in Shorin Ryu karate by Sensei Takeshi Miyagi, of "Karate Kid" fame), now has seven novels in print. "Fatal Destiny," published by Amazon, is his first non-fiction work.

'A great storyteller'

A lengthy process of composition — and hundreds of rejection slips — are nothing new to Lilley.

His writing career began with encouragement from Dr. Sheldon Greenberg, a former police colleague turned academic and now associate dean of the school of education and director of the division of public safety leadership at Johns Hopkins University.

"Jim was always a great storyteller," Greenberg recalls. As for his novels, which include detective, uniformed officer and vigilante-themed series as well as some serious and some lighter works, and his soon-to-be-published autobiography, Greenberg adds: "He has stories to tell and he tells them. To me that's the mark of a really good writer."

Some five years ago, the completed still-unpublished "Fatal Destiny" got a boost at the Johns Hopkins police executive leadership class Lilley presented with wife Jody, also a retired county officer, who had been first on the scene of Basu's murder. Public safety officers studying the case wanted to know what had become of the surviving husband and daughter, which encouraged Lilley to try to make contact with Steve Basu.

"Now I'm glad it did take so long to publish," the 69-year-old author says. "I was able to get a lot of good angles." Not the least of them was the first interview by an author with Basu, whose videotape of little Sarina's departure for school happened to include the appearance of the two men who would shortly attack his wife at a nearby stop sign.

Lilley doesn't know why Basu responded to his inquiry after he had rejected many others. Somehow, "he felt confident that I wouldn't violate his trust," he said.

Although he continues to maintain his silence, Basu doesn't want his wife or what happened to her to be forgotten, Lilley said. He also told Lilley that he liked Lilley's straightforward style, Lilley said, and said Pam's mother in India thinks the telling of her daughter's story is long overdue.

Basu declined a request to be interviewed for this article.

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As a former police officer, Lilley had a professional understanding of what should be in the book: Transcripts, interviews and statements made in court. Also included were statements solicited from participants in the investigation and trials, including one by formerPresident George H.W. Bush, during whose tenure the federal anti- carjacking legislation was passed.

Lilley was also able to publish crime scene and other evidentiary photos, all of which contribute to making the book "a powerful textbook in teaching police," according to Greenberg.

Still, a number of publishers, including one "big name," turned it down, Lilley said. It was not a mystery since the case was already solved, explained one editor; it was solved too quickly, said another; it had occurred more than five years ago, according to a third.

In court, Steve Basu's videotape, exhaustive police work and testimony from dozens of witnesses, investigators and experts resulted in murder convictions for both Rodney Eugene Solomon and Bernard Eric Miller. The latter's continual appeals and persistence of the case in police work have led it to be called "the crime that won't go away," Lilley and Greenberg say.

'Then she was gone'

In the two decades since that day in September, the stretch of Gorman Road where the tragedy occurred has been rerouted and developed, Jody Lilley says. For years, she rode the 2-mile-long crime scene as part of her assigned area, its sheer brutality etched in her mind forever. The nightmares she had at the time resurfaced before the trial and returned to an extent with the publication of the book.

Steve and Sarina Basu have gone on to live their private lives. Sarina has grown up and is getting ready to graduate from college with a degree in industrial engineering.

But it's Steve's recollection of that day in September with which "Fatal Destiny" concludes:

"Pam was so very happy on the morning of September 8 … Sarina's very first day of pre-school … She wanted me to videotape everything, and I knew we would be showing the film to family and friends over and over. She was smiling and so proud of our little girl when she walked out to the car to take her to school. I can still see her smiling as she put Sarina in the car. Then — and then she was gone."

"Fatal Destiny: The Carjacking Murder of Dr. Pam Basu" by James H. Lilley (use the complete title to search) is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions, and can be rented for Kindle reading as well.

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