The Baltimore Sun from Baltimore, Maryland on May 27, 1990 · 332
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The Baltimore Sun from Baltimore, Maryland · 332

Baltimore, Maryland
Issue Date:
Sunday, May 27, 1990
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4 SUNDAY, MAY 27, 1990 HOWARD COUNTY SUN Teacher's By Michael James Staff writer The Ellicott City middle school where Oliver Wendell Munson once taught is now gone, and the blue spruce tree planted in his honor has withered and died. His bungalow in Catonsville has been sold, his woodworking possessions given away. A close friend still keeps Mun-son's house key and hopes he will return someday from an unknown sanctuary. A Baltimore City detective who worked day and night to find him six years ago believes Munson was murdered in a bizarre scheme yet to be fully understood. And Munson's brother Harold visits this area two or three times a year from his Queen Anne's County home. It is for no reason other than to take a drive past his brother's old house, to do nothing more than think about what happened on Feb. 13, 1984. "I drive by there and I think about him getting into his car, and I try to see into the past a little bit-Harold Munson said. "I don't believe in magic, but what else can be done to find him? He's been gone a long time without an answer.", . . Tomorrow marks five years since a Kent County Circuit Court Judge declared Oliver Munson legally dead, the victim of a "presumptive homicide." Little is left of Munson other than rumors, memories and strange clues none of which explain what happened on the foggy day he disappeared. ' " But investigators suspect the key clues must come out of the even more distant past, from the years when a Baltimore man developed what police say they believe to be a history of brutal crime against those who crossed him. Munson had agreed to testify against that man on Feb. 16, 1 984, three days after his disappearance. But he didn't know that in the 1 970s, two other men who had agreed to testify in criminal cases against the same man were found dead under suspicious circumstances. Popular teacher buys a car Oliver Munson, a popular 39-year-old industrial arts teacher, got in his car to drive to work at the now-defunct Ellicott City Middle School that February morning, and was never seen again. . ; Many kept alive the hope that Munson had not met with foul play. His students, many still in county high schools, still ask about the sixth-grade shop teacher ; who, they hoped, had found a new life in a more exciting place. But those hopes slowly slipped away. Few thought Munson was the type to Just drop out of sight. " He was a model of dependability. In his 1 5 years as a teacher, he missed no more than four days of , school, and during one eight-year period, did not miss a single day. Munson was a favorite among students, whom he occasionally took bowling, and colleagues, who admired his skills as a craftsman. He often made shelves, tables and cabinets for his friends and family. Woodworking projects virtually overtook his tiny house In the 600 , block of Orpington Avenue In Ca lection of videotaped films from mysterious disappearance is still troubling the early days of cinematography to recent releases. And as a diehard Baltimore Orioles fan, no one believed he was capable of moving from the city that boasted Memorial Stadium. Munson also loved to tinker with his cars, including three Ford Pintos and a Triumph, which he enjoyed working on during weekends and evenings after school. But what he longed for was a Datsun 240Z sports car. In the spring of 1983, after spotting a classified advertisement in the newspaper, he bought one. The snappy blue 1973 model had virtually no rust. It stood out as the car of his dreams, say his friends. But it was the purchase of that car, say police detectives, that put Oliver Munson in contact with an auto theft ring suspected of playing a part in his death. A few months after buying the car. Detective Philip Goodwin of the Baltimore City police auto theft unit arrived on Munson's doorstep. He told Munson that the car had been recently stolen in Baltimore and disguised using a "salvage switch." The technique is used by auto thieves who buy junked cars for the purpose of switching the serial number plates with that of a stolen car of the same make. A buyer then has no way of knowing that the vehicle is stolen. Munson had been duped by the scheme. Goodwin told him how the car had come from an East Baltimore "chop shop," a hidden garage where stolen vehicles are stripped for parts or are replated. Police confiscated Munson's sports car. The chop-shop suspect, who had been arrested a few months earlier, had been linked to seven stolen cars in Baltimore. His name was Dennis L. Watson, and he was then 34 years old. His criminal history dated back to the early 1970s. Five years earlier, Goodwin told Munson, Watson had finished serving Jail time and had been back on the street ever since. Munson then agreed to testify against Watson in a grand theft auto case. Witnesses died suddenly Munson was not the first man who planned to testifying against Watson. Two others had died suspiciously Just before their sched-. uled testimony In other cases. Clinton E. Glenn, a 29-year-old Baltimore resident, had agreed to testify against Watson In a 1973 armed robbery case. Watson, charged with robbing a woman of $ 1 4 1 while she was walking to her home in the city, was released on bond before the trial. But Glenn never lived to testify. On the day before his scheduled court appearance Nov. 20, 1973 Glenn's badly burned body was found in the back of a Volkswagen bus that had been set on fire in Baltimore County. , The bus, found in a wooded ' area of Blue Mount Road in Monk-ton, was registered to Watson. In the days following the discovery, a state medical examiner at first Identified the dead man as Watson himself, although that error was quickly corrected. Nevertheless, officers did not publicly Identify the victim as Glenn for nearly a the death a homicide after deter Baltimore County Police $2,000.00 Ibis Department is currently attempting Description: Negro male, 39 yean approximately 150 1) i hair (balding). At subject was startlnt n Munson subject was last seen on Fel In front of 653 Orpington Road In the ( A $1,000.00 reward has been offered, bj by the Ellicott City Middle School P.T, whereabouts. Anyone having information concerning O contact the Baltimore County Police Def (301) 494-2176 or Police Cannunicatiane Baltimore County Police Department Criminal Investigation Division 400 Kenilworth Drive Ibwson, Maryland 21204 FLYER 4. "I talked to Munson a few times while we were working on the case, and there was never any hint of danger. He seemed relaxed with the ; situation and we had seen no reason to worry ' about his safety." PHILIP GOODWIN Baltimore City detective mining the man had been burned alive after being doused with gasoline. Watson, meanwhile, had disappeared, according to police records from the case. Police records say that Investigators believed Watson had attempted to stage his own death. In January 1974, arrest war- ; rants were issued for both Watson, then 24, and the woman who was then his wife. Georgette Watson, also 24. Both were charged with first-degree murder in Glenn's death. - 1 , . It was not until months later, ' Vbowevpri irufljpolice jic Tn'Octbl '111 a ucuruiiiuiii to locate Oliver Wendell Munson. Links in Munson disappearance I In Topeka, Kan., arrested the pair as they allegedly tried to steal a car in that city. An FBI crime infor-; matlon check revealed that the Watsons were wanted not only In Baltimore, but In Nevada, where Dennis Watson had been arrested In early 1974 on another armed robbery charge. ' , The murder charges took precedence, and both Watsons were extradited to Maryland, arriving back in the area In late October 1974. Investigators In the Glenn case, meanwhile, had a witness linking Watson to Glenn's killing. Ronald XNdqiy5 fMs nd p Watson, rldrf hetmtt with in ftuspect that Stolen car recovered j mJU 5000 block Windsor -teX Mill Road 7 I r i -4 V ; s . I 's Munson's car found I 3J I 600 block Braeside I I 1 j Mnnsnn's hnm. ) I Road Catonsville j Baltimore County Police released a flyer (left) in 1984, following the disappearance of Oliver Wendell Munson. A map (below) notes locations later connected in the mysterious disappearance. Car stolen from private residence on Townbroook Drive sun graphics revealed key Information in the ; case, said Baltimore County Police Col. Michael Gambrill. After a grand jury Indictment, the murder trial was scheduled for March 11, 1975. But two months i r . i i rt e i ueiurc liic mai, iicison was iuuiiu dead of a drug overdose in Baltimore. The overdose was investigated as a suspicious death, but no cause of foul play was ever found and the case was ruled an acci dental overdose, said Gambrill, who worked on the Glenn case as a detective. ' Baltimore County police put the murder case on an inactive docket. meaning the charge remains pending the appeal to a Judge. It can only be reopened through a court proceeding that would evalu ate new case evidence, Gambrill said. "To this day we still haven't for gotten about it," Gambrill said. "It's still a case, but It s a frozen one. Someday we might get a piece of information, that allows us to go

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