Despite what nearly all mainstream news outlets seem hellbent on convincing us of, violence in America and throughout the world, is declining rapidly. Nonetheless, there’s nothing quite as fascinating as a real-life murder mystery. The recent, massive success of the Serial podcast (a real life investigation into the killing of Baltimorean Hae Min Lee), proved that even though most of us are unlikely to die from anything other than old age, there’s nothing wrong with getting wrapped up in a real tragedy, involving real emotions, and real people (so long as we understand that it’s an interesting story, but not news). That being said, here are a few more bizarre murder mysteries in Baltimore. If a podcast is able to make a court grant an appeal, maybe these cases are worth re-examining.
Janice Lynn Potter
So devastating was the murder of Janice Lynn Potter in 1986, that her family, including her niece, Kimberly Lubinski-Panday, who was only a baby at the time of Janice’s death, continue to pursue her unidentified murderer to this day. What made the stabbing/strangulation death of the 24-year-old even more tragic was that she was 2 months pregnant at the time.
On the night she was murdered, Janice Potter’s husband had left their Parkville home for his night college course. According to his own testimony, he had opened the basement, sliding door slightly for her before he left, as she complained of the fireplace making her too hot. A little while later, some neighborhood kids knocked on the door, selling candy. They were greeted by an unidentified man, possibly a man who just committed murder, who failed to mention the dead body of Mrs. Potter, in the basement below.
When Mr. Potter phoned the police after returning home from his class, they found Janice’s body at the scene. She had been strangled and stabbed. A few pieces of jewelry were missing, but strangely many of the more expensive items were left behind. Even more weird, was that there were no muddy footprints on the carpet, despite the fact that the rain had turned the backyard into a slushy mess. Though a suspicious eye was immediately cast upon Janice’s husband, especially after one classmate claimed he lied about how late for class he was that night, Janice’s family maintained that he loved his family dearly, and he was never charged with anything.
The only other real clue, as far as a suspect, is an unidentified man who seemed to have developed some sort of obsession with Janice, manifesting in harassing phone calls, delivered to her at work. She even received several that day she died. So far as anyone can tell, Janice wasn’t sure who it was, and no one can prove for sure that the obsession went beyond phone harassment.
Who killed this young mother-to-be in the prime of her life? Was Janice’s husband involved? The mysterious phone stalker? Or was it simply some anonymous, low life, thief who simply traded in the life of Janice and her child, for a few hundred bucks at the pawn shop, with Janice’s jewelry? Though the it’s been nearly 30 years, Janice’s family are still actively searching for answers.
If you visit Baltimore regularly at all, you’ve likely driven through Druid Hill Park at least once. The inspiration for the title of thong-enthusiast Sisqo’s music group is home to the Baltimore Zoo, an expansive frisbee-golf course, and a huge, inexplicable statue of Scottish hero William Wallace (Braveheart) over looking from a hill for some reason. There’s also a giant lake right in the middle, with a giant fountain in it’s middle. And on June 2, 1969, there was also, as unsuspecting electricians discovered, the decomposed body of reported missing person, Shirley Parker resting in open within the flat-top fountain, floating in a shallow pool of water. To this day no one can figure out how or why.
Shirley was a popular figure among the African-American community of 1960’s Baltimore. She was attractive and stylish, employed at the popular Sphinx Club, worked as a secretary for the urban league, and volunteered with the NAACP. At 35, the twice-divorced Parker had taken to dating 33-year old, Arno West. Despite the fact that she was supporting West financially (he still lived with his mom), she discovered he had spent her money on a gift for another girlfriend. On April 23, 1969, the understandably enraged Parker confronted Arno and a public shouting match ensued. Some Witnesses claim West struck her. After cooling off somewhat, the couple took a drive to talk about things. Shirley Parker was never seen alive again.
Arno claimed he witnessed Shirley climb the fence and threaten to walk into Druid Park Lake that night, though he talked her out of it and he drove her home. Shirley’s family claim she never came back home that night. Arno claimed he found her purse back at the lake fence a few days later and called the police. One of the first orders of business in what would become several weeks of manhunting, was to drag the Druid Hill Lake. Unsurprisingly no one thought to check the fountain in the middle. When Parker’s body was finally discovered weeks later, there was too much decomposition to determine a cause of death, though no obvious signs of trauma of drug use were discovered.
Could Shirley have committed suicide? Why would she swim to a fountain and crawl inside?
Is it possible she attempted suicide but changed her mind, rested on the fountain and suffered a fall or breakdown of some kind? Once the story of Parker’s discovered body spread, people became making sketchy claims of having witnessed a man in a rowboat late at night around the time Shirley disappeared, or that they caught Arno eyeballing the site with binoculars after the disappearance. Despite what many people thought obvious about Arno West (especially after failing a polygraph test), he was never charged with Shirley Parker’s murder and the death remains a mystery. It sure gives you something to think about next time you drive through Druid Park though.
Up until the time of his sudden death, Jonathan Luna appeared to be a success story; though he came from a disadvantaged family from the South Bronx housing projects in NYC, he worked his way through college and eventually law school. He appeared to be living the American dream when he settled in Baltimore, with his obstetrician wife and two kids, to work as an assistant U.S. attorney. And then one day, Jonathan simply did not come home from work. Instead he drove to Delaware, than New Jersey, and finally Pennsylvania, where he drowned in a creek, his body riddled with over 30 stab wounds at the time of his death.
Maryland and Delaware investigators couldn’t agree on whether Jonathan’s death was a suicide or a murder. The case for suicide was supported by the revelations of Luna’s life not being as perfect as it seemed; he was in serious credit card debt, had one card his wife didn’t know about, and also, to the surprise of his now-widow, had been meeting women on dating sites for years. To make matters worse, some cash had recently gone missing from evidence in a trial Jonathan was involved in, and he was under investigation at the death time of his death.
What didn’t look like suicide however, were the multiple shallow stab wounds (indicative of a torture), the blood splattering all over Jonathan’s car (including the backseat), the cash strewn throughout the vehicle, and the evidence suggesting Luna was kicked in the nuts before his death. Also, Luna suspiciously used his toll pass for only half of his bizarre trip; records show Luna’s tolls inexplicably started being unnecessarily paid for, as though someone else had gotten behind the wheel, and didn’t realize they didn’t have to. And there is the fact that his glasses, the ones he needed for driving, were found left on his desk at work, with no explanation.
Working as a federal prosecutor in Baltimore City, Luna very well could have come into conflict involving shady characters who weren’t averse to carrying out a killing. Some believe the case he was working on at the time, which involved murder, drug dealing, and a key witness, an FBI informant who seemed to have a hard time keeping to the terms of his agreement, may have been involved.