The Baltimore Sun from Baltimore, Maryland on August 20, 1995 · Page 134
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The Baltimore Sun from Baltimore, Maryland · Page 134

Baltimore, Maryland
Issue Date:
Sunday, August 20, 1995
Page 134
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4K TODAY THE SUN SUNDAY, AUGUST 20, 1995 THE MYSTERY OF SUSAN HARRISON MISSING: A disappearance remains unexplained From Page IK mysteries: her death and her life. They don't deny Susan drank, or that she had emotional problems, but disagree with Jim over the precise diagnosis. They also think the most abusive thing Susan ever did to herself was get Involved with Jim. "the equation should have come out much differently," says younger brother Bob Hurley, an Investment adviser, Instinctively reaching for the metaphor of his business. "How did she get Into this position? Why did she allow this to happen? None of the explanations I've heard have satisfied me." For at least 40 of her 52 years, Susan had moved safely and carefully along the path expected of the second child and oldest daughter of William T. Hurley Jr., an executive with a Massachusetts silverware manufacturer, and Mary Lynch Hurley, a homemaker. Boarding school, college, a few years on her own In Boston, marriage at age 25. Her groom, law student Tom Owsley, knew her brother Bill from their undergraduate days at Harvard, and meshed easily with the close-knit Irish Catholic family. Tom and Susan's first date was to Bill's annual bash on Cape Cod. Before the summer ended, they knew they wanted to marry. Their summer of love was also the Summer of Love, but Tom and Susan were as far from the upheavals of the 1960s as Cape Cod was from Halght-Ashbury. Susan belonged to the last generation of women who assumed family would come before career, who never thought about "choosing" motherhood. A gifted artist, Susan found her medium in homemaklng. If she admired something, her Instinct was to re-create it a stenciled lamp shade, a Tyrolean sweater, a set of needlepoint seat covers. She was Martha Stewart before anyone had heard of Martha Stewart. By the 1970s, the Owsleys had settled in Reston, Va and started their family Jonathan was born In 1970, Nicholas In 1975. The glass cookie Jar In Susan's kitchen brimmed with cookies appropriate to the season. Iced hearts for Valentine's Day, green shamrocks for St. Patrick's Day, smiling jack-o'-lanterns for Halloween. The cookie baking of the first 1 1 months paled alongside the elaborate creations produced in December. Above all, Susan gloried in Christmas, wrapping evergreen boughs around the banister, playing carols constantly on the stereo, making her own ornaments and decorations. Her sons grew to tease her about the fetish she made of the holiday, but they secretly loved It Externally, things looked perfect. Tom Owsley's law career was moving up and onward at a steady pace. The family had moved from apart The Owsleys and the Harrisons socialized often until 1984, when Jim Harrison publicly announced his Intent to many Susan. After their marriage, he gave her many extravagant gifts, including a y V . r:;.. : - rr 1 racehorse, Susan's b-V i i Choice (above). CyV w ment to townhouse, from townhouse to house, from a Colonial to a Colonial on 3 acres. Their sons were healthy and handsome. Did it have to change? This question nags at everyone involved her first husband, their sons, her siblings. Was Susan fated to meet Jim Harrison, or someone else? Was her Itch specific, or a generic dissatisfaction bred In 15 years of marriage? Perhaps not even Susan knew the answer. There are facts, dates and certainties. They met in 1979 In Charlottesville, Va., at a meeting of a professional group to which Jim Harrison and Tom, both lawyers, belonged. Jim was blazing his way through the legal offices of McCor-mick & Co., the spice manufacturer in the Baltimore suburbs. He was married to his college sweetheart, and their six children were In their teens and 20s. Apparently, he and Susan had a special rapport, the kind of charged reaction called chemistry. Jim says It was obvious to everyone. Tom Owsley sees it only In hindsight. He and Susan moved to Baltimore In 1982, when he became a vice president at Crown Central Petroleum Corp. The Owsleys and the Harrisons socialized even more after the move, "dating" as some couples do. They had Just been at the theater one night In 1984. when Jim Harrison stood to make an announcement. "I love your wife and I'm going to marry her," he told Tom. Tom Owsley, looking back across 1 1 years to that night, says dryly. "It was something of a showstopper." Then he asks to change the subject. Within the year, both couples separated, both amicably. Susan and Tom shared custody of their sons. On Dec. 2, 1988, Jim Harrison made good on his word, although Susan was already complaining about abuse to her friends and family. They married at the courthouse in Towson that morning, then went downtown to Piper & Marbury, where Jim oversaw a $550 million real estate deal for McCormlck. By 1989, Baltimore County police had begun logging repeated complaints of domestic battery Involving the couple, recording at least 20 In four years. Susan petitioned the court for a restraining order twice in 1993 prevailing the first time, only to violate the order herself. Finally, she left Jim In Christmas week of 1993, banging on her friend Mary Jo Gordon's door at 3 a.m. She was barefoot and hadn't even bothered to grab a coat as she ran from the house while Jim slept. She wanted out It started as a silly quarrel, but many of their quarrels began over silly things, especially during the holidays. She told her friend that Jim had thrown her Into the Christmas tree. Police reports indicate she tf'"xw - -'M 11 1 1 mm . If 3 v i ' ry. ...( ST 1 H, ... . V V ; V, . -" - n: . -X ; j . . ' . - i For most of her life, Susan Harrison might have been drinking, but Susan insisted she was sober, which gave her the courage to leave. "She kept thinking if she could change herself, it would never happen," Ms. Gordon says. "She thought it was something she did. He could be so good to her. He admired her. At the same time, he thought maybe she was better than him. He put her up on a pedestal, then resented her for being higher than him." Ms. Gordon acted swiftly, convinced Susan was sincere this time. Within a week, she helped her find a house for rent In Ruxton. Friends and family rallied around Susan, moving her belongings and providing a buffer against Jim. Initially, she kept her location and phone number a secret from her husband. But she had to see him, she said, if only to pick up her support checks. From there, it was easy to start socializing again. She needed someone to go to dinner with on Friday night, she explained to her sons and her friends, who had hoped the separation would stick. Jim even helped her negotiate the lease for her Mill Centre store, the Shady Lady, the place that was, briefly, the symbol of her independence. Of course, the name was a Joke, a harmless pun on Susan's lamp shades. Who could have been less shady than Susan, the sunny blonde who looked younger than her years? Once she disappeared, the shop name took on an unsavory life of its own. In the early days of the search, Susan's dark green Saab still missing, the Shady Lady Insinuated its way into the subconscious and ended up Jumbled with other details, the whispers of alcohol abuse and domestic violence. Why not? the skeptics asked. Why couldn't she have just walked away? It's a com- w Susan Harrison's elder son, Jonathan Owsley, often played the role of protector. He's flanked here by his mother and father, Tom Owsley, at a Middlebury College lacrosse game. V v i ' j here in her 20s moved safely mon enough fantasy. Why not? The profiler t. Sam Bowerman gets to know a lot of people after they're dead. It's his job, a Job that didn't even exist when he iolned the Baltimore County Police Department 22 years ago. An FBI-trained profiler, he's a cop who uses the social sciences to learn about crimes, crime victims and the possible suspects. He also is the closest thing to a neutral party in the two camps who have staked positions on either side of Susan Harrison's disappearance. The first camp her siblings, her sons, her first husband, her friends believe she is dead, and have believed this almost from the moment they heard she was missing. There is no perch in their hearts for hope, that thing with feathers, as Emily Dickinson called It For them, it is an article of faith that Susan is dead. In the second camp Is Jim Harrison. He has his own, sometimes contradictory, theories. Her emotional problems may be at the root of her disappearance. She might have run off with another man. She might be In Ireland. A man named Chris Kennedy Hughes says he heard she was being held In Boston. (He also told Jim he's running for president In the year 2000 and that he has several sets of adoptive parents, Including Howard Hughes, Robert Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.) But even Jim is beginning to waver in his oft-stated hope Susan is alive. It falls to Lieutenant Bowerman to sift through all the possibilities. A likable, easygoing man, he explains his methods as he sits In his office high above Towson. On a clear day, one can see Ruxton, where Susan lived, or Tlmonium Road, the last place she was seen alive. That was the night of Aug. 5. This part of the story has been polished to a high sheen, like a sliver coin buffed every time it is taken out and examined and It has been taken out many, many times. Instead of the usual discrepancies bred by several tellers, the account Is consistent down to the smallest details. In the early evening, Susan went to visit Jim. The next day, she was to go to Boston with Nicholas, for a long-anticipated visit with her brothers. After running a few errands, Nicholas went to his mother's Ruxton home, where the door was ajar and her purse was on the counter, but with no wallet Inside. By 9 p.m., he had begun to panic. He called his father, calling again at 11 p.m. and at 2 a.m., until Tom Owsley urged him to return to his house In Homeland for the night. Where was Susan? Jim Harrison says she came to see him, acting strangely. She raged at him. fell asleep the moment she drank a glass of wine, then woke up, serene and loving. Another nap, then she reverted to screaming at him, until Jim went upstairs and got Into bed. The next day, as Nicholas, his father and Susan's family pondered her disappearance, Jim Harrison says he impulsively decided to walk around downtown. It was an unusually beautiful day cool for August, not at all humid. When he returned home about 4:30 p.m., a scrap of yellow paper was taped to his door: "Please call Officer Sabotka as soon as possible." He says it never occurred to him the note was about Susan. The mlsslng-person report was filed officially Aug. 6. Homicide got the case on Aug. 8, but the profiler was not brought in right away. Of course, there was no crime scene for Lieutenant Bowerman to dissect. That was the whole problem. A year later, It remains the problem. With a scene to study, a profiler might determine the relationship between the killer and the victim. Did the killer get In close, or hold the victim at a distance? Did the killer degrade the victim? With no body, and no scene, the profiler studies the victim in abstract. Who was she? What behavior makes sense? Lieutenant Bowerman is convinced Susan is dead, and has h'?n dead since that weekend. His train along the path expected of her. ing tells him she is the victim of foul play, and that her killer Is someone who knew her. "We have a fact," he says. The fact Is that Susan Harrison was a devoted mother. Forget all other things. The sun rose and set on her two sons." But how can he tell the killer knew her? Couldn't she have been carjacked, or kidnapped by an Inept criminal who panicked and decided to kill her? "The stranger has no need to distance himself from the victim," Lieutenant Bowerman explains. "He doesn't need to take real time and effort in concealing the body. And If there's a witness, he needs even less time. Then, he Just wants to dispose of the body and get the hell out of Dodge." So the perfect crime, that old con-celt, comes down to luck. And a murderer's luck doesn't have to run out. Consider Bernadette Caruso, who disappeared outside Eastpoint Mall nine years ago, In a mlsslng-person case with unsettling parallels to the Harrison case. She had a 3 -year-old daughter at home, and no one In her family believes she would have left her voluntarily. She was In the middle of a divorce. Neither her car nor her body has ever been found. Every year, her family holds a Mass for relatives of missing adults, an extension of the support group that Bernadette' s mother, Patricia Stevenson, set up in her Dundalk home. Last December, Lieutenant Bowerman attended, bringing Jim Harrison with him. They've spent a lot of time together over the past year. Sometimes, Jim calls up to ask why he hasn't seen him In a while. The two sat In the same pew at the Mass. To Lieutenant Bower-man's surprise, Jim rose during the service, walked up to the altar and whispered in the priest's ear. Jim then turned to the front and led the congregation In a prayer. The police have never publicly Identified Jim Harrison as a suspect In the case, although Jim readily admits he has been treated as one. When asked who might have killed Susan, Lieutenant Bowerman always speaks of a generic killer. As In: The killer knew Susan Harrison. And what does he have to say about Jim Harrison? Lieutenant Bowerman thinks for a second. "I can say he Is probably one of the most cooperative Individuals I've experienced in all my years In law enforcement." The husband hey were not yet husband and wife when Susan and Jim purchased the place on Tlmonium Road, a Cape Cod that backs to the 17th hole at the Baltimore Country Club. From the outside, it is a gracious, secluded house of pale red brick and willow-green woodwork. The grounds are nicely kept. Jim Harrison points out the clump of black-eyed Susans blooming In the back yard. Old photographs show it was once equally well-kept Inside, graced by Susan's taste. But those days are long gone. The family room looks as If it has been ransacked; mall and newspapers cover every surface. Jim makes a joke about his sloppiness and leads his visitors through the house. In the kitchen, at least 100 bottles of vitamin pills and nutritional supplements crowd the counters and windowslll. The drywall has a deep gash In it. Vestiges of Susan's handiwork are still evident the rust-colored border of stenciled animals along the counter and the walls, a motif repeated on the cabinets' porcelain knobs. The living room Is almost bare, except for a sofa, a few chairs, a stained rug and Christmas decorations. The tree, left up through spring, has finally come down, but a wreath hangs over the fireplace, a lone Christmas card sits on the mantel and a wrapped gift has been tossed on a chair. Jim, Impossibly merry for such a hot day, kneels before the fireplace and plugs in a knee-high Santa Claus. It Is difficult to Imagine Susan approving of this plastic St. Nick, T Susan Harrison belonged to the last generation of women who assumed family would come before career, who never thought about 'choosing' motherhood. which sways Jerkily to and fro, playing nerve-jangllng snatches of carols. But Jim is delighted by his toy. He even sings along, his florid face quite animated, his body swinging In Imitation of the Santa. "The first Noelthe angels did say . . ." Santa slides Into the next song, throwing Jim off guard for a moment, but he finds the melody and continues, swinging his arms and tapping his foot as If conducting a ragtag orchestra. "Jingle bells. Jingle bells, Jingle all the way . . ." He Is 58, almost 59, and until four years ago, he was the chief financial officer of one of Baltimore's most successful and visible companies. Before his early retirement from McCormlck, his reputation was for playing the bumpkin, allowing his adversaries to think themselves smarter than he. The phone rings and he leaves the room, shouting "Merry Christmas!" upon his return. But he has tired of Santa's songs and finally unplugs him. Time to talk about Susan. He volunteers that they had a great sex life. He speaks of himself In the third person, showing off a series of photographs of him with his grandchildren. "Jim likes to read." "Jim gives kisses." "Jim likes to hug, too." And he occasionally blurts out: "Oh, I hope she's alive. I hope she comes back to me." By anyone's standards, Jim Harrison is having a difficult year. Susan disappeared. One of his sons, William, boarded a bus in Florida, shot and killed a stranger, then killed himself, apparently because he was distraught over losing most of his fingers to frostbite. Jim went to see a psychiatrist six times, but decided not to take the anti-depressant the doctor prescribed. In March, Jim was charged with battery of a police officer In Baltimore County, who stopped him as he stumbled along Relsterstown Road near the Green Spring Valley Hurt Club. Then In June, he was arrested for driving while Intoxicated in Ocean City and charged with battery of the arresting officer. He won't discuss those matters, still pending in court, but he has no problem discussing his role as a suspect In Susan's disappearance. He finds this preposterous, but tries not to be offended by the questions from Lieutenant Bowerman and the homicide detectives. He even agreed to a He detector test, a six-hour ordeal on Election Day. "The police said I failed It," he says, "but I looked at the chart and all the lines were the same." By now, he has told his story repeatedly to police, to reporters, In a hearing on Susan's property last November. He Is remarkably consistent. He loved Susan. He never hurt her. Things were wonderful, except when she "went manic depressive." They were going to get back together. A most cooperative Individual, as Lieutenant Bowerman says. But Jim Harrison admits there are two people in the world who don't like him at all, Jonathan and Nicholas Owsley. In fact, their contempt for him is so strong, they reject "stepfather" as too intimate a term. He Is Jim to them, or simply "he." Does Jim know why they feel this way? "Susan told them bad things about me." Did they ever see or hear anything in the house on Tlmonium Road that might have led them to draw their own conclusions? There was nothing to see or hear, Jim Harrison insists. Susan's accounts of abuse were delusional, her Injuries self-inflicted. She was the one with the drinking problem. The sons he sons of Susan and Tom Owsley are five years apart, a comfortable distance for two brothers whose identities might otherwise have collapsed into one, first at Gil-man School, where both were outstanding students; then at Middle-bury College, where they both majored In political science, and lettered In the same sport, lacrosse. See MISSING, 8K

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