How to use the Baltimore Sun Archives and the library to search for old murder cases (and other stuff)

In the furthest reaches of your memory do you have an old murder that you want to learn about? Or maybe there is an urban legend kicking around that you want to confirm or deny? Or how about if you just want to know more about something that happened in the past. Allow me to show you how to find out what you need to know. All the resources you need are right here on the Internet.

Naturally, you can do your research any way you wish, but I will share my own methodology. Below is a quick list of the web sites that you will find useful.

Baltimore Sun Archives

Enoch Pratt Free Library Newspaper Databases

Baltimore County Public Library Newspaper Archive List

Maryland Judiciary Case Search

Maryland Department of Corrections Inmate Locator

First let's talk about how Baltimore Sun's reporters report on murder cases. Do a search on what you know already. They almost always list the following:

Name of victim
Name of alleged murderer
Hundred block of murder site
Hundred block of both victim and murderer's home address
Neighborhood of murder site

Once you have some general information, you will also need a range of dates in which the murder/event took place. So think about what you were doing when the event took place and you can start there. The Baltimore Sun Archives is missing the years between 1987-1990.

There are 2 ways of accessing Baltimore Sun articles from yesteryear for no money at all.

1. The Enoch Pratt Free Library

You are free to visit the EPFL Central Library at 400 Cathedral Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. Enter the lobby, take a left and go straight to the Newspaper Room. There you will confront some scary library ladies who will give you a dirty look. Bring your A-game with you. Be polite. Tell the scary ladies what you want and they will give you specific instructions. Do not ask for special favors, do not make small talk, do not look right, do not look left. They will tell you exactly what to do to extract the information you need from the microfilm. Follow the rules. You can make paper copies of the article @ $0.20 per page or you can make downloadable jpgs with their new-fangled machinery if you bring your own thumb drive. Once you get the swing of things it becomes quite easy.

Update 11/20/11 Since I first published this post the kind people at the Enoch Pratt Free Library has added the Baltimore Sun to the EPFL Newspaper Databases it provides to the library-going public. Just like in Baltimore County you will need a library card to access them from your home OR you can visit an EPFL branch and use the computers in the library.

2. Baltimore County Public Library On-Line Newspaper Archive Database

For this you will need a Baltimore County Public Library library card. Baltimore County library cards are available to anyone. You can apply on-line for a Baltimore County Library card here. You will also need to sign up for their on-line account management system which requires and email address. Once you are hooked up into the Baltimore County System you can access the many online newspaper databases Baltimore County provides, Baltimore Sun, Afro American, New York Times and Christian Science Monitor.

Baltimore County Public Library Newspaper List

Once in the archives, type the street names, victim names, and whatever other identifying search words into the search box. Next choose the appropriate database and date ranges. I'd go with "relevance" because that will help you avoid anything in the classified ads or notices, you want the articles. Keep searching until you find the articles you seek. Once you find the articles that are relevant write down the date of the newspaper and the page number.

Okay, now you have the information about the murder and you want more information about the people involved. I recommend using the Maryland Judiciary Case Search to find out all about the interactions the people involved had with the judicial system. The case search only harkens back to 1990 or so, but for recent criminal events it should be able to give you the big picture. For common names you may need the middle initial or birth date.

Once you have the murderer's name you can figure out whether he/she is still a guest of the state by using the Maryland Department of Corrections Inmate Locator. Again, for common names you may need the middle initial or birth date.

Masonville Cove Revisted - Baltimore, MD

First and foremost, for an explanation of my initial visit to the cove please visit my original blog post on the Masonville Cove. I have no picture for this current post so if you want to see what it looks like you'll have the refer to the other post.

View Masonville Cove in a larger map

Okay, now that you have read the old post let's fast forward to October 2010. I have been doing a lot of bird watching over at Ft. McHenry and have been watching the dredge activity over at Masonville Cove. If you look at the Google Map Satellite imagery viewable now (October 2010) in the above map it is completely inaccurate. The Port Administration has annihilated the cove, the ferry is gone and so are a lot of the other boat relics that were there. The cove area to the east of the Mercedes Benz parking lot has been filled in and now there are new land formations all over. The last 2 years have been a noisy busy mess.

I had to go over to Brooklyn yesterday so I figured I would stop in over at the cove to see what was going on. The Masonville Environmental Center has been erected, finished and staffed. According to the Masonville Cove Environmental Center Website it is sort an education center. I was there at noon on a Monday. There was staff in the building but the door was locked. I knocked anyway. The staff told me the building was not open to the public that day, I asked to look around which they allowed me to do. Nobody offered me a map or instructions on what to do or see at the cove. The staff seemed busy preparing their lunches. I opted not to ask any questions because I feared the staff would tell me I had to leave the cove and go away which wasn't going to happen. I didn't feel like getting into a pissing match with a ponytail.

Now I was left with a dilemma, I wanted to see the cove but I didn't want the staff to notice I was in the cove. Fortunately for me I remembered to wear my camouflage. The beauty of Masonville Cove Environmental Center is that the center is completely obscured in the woods. As long as one stays to the west of the center they can't see you. So that is where I decided to go. I left my car in the Environmental Center's parking lot which I will probably never do again. The parking lot has a gate and I was worried that the gate might get closed. Next time I visit I will leave my car somewhere on Frankfurst Avenue so the staff can't see it and I won't have to worry about the gate. I also want to forwarn you that due to the dredging the entire area really really stinks, it stinks bad.

I walked west on Frankfurst Ave. and used the gated road entrance to access the cove (see map). Then I walked a few hundred feet to get to the water's edge. There is a road that goes to mulch parking lot there. Then you have to bushwhack. Some of the coastline there rises about 20-30 feet above the water and makes for a good place to watch the birds. This was pretty exciting because an osprey was busy diving for fish not 50 feet in front of me. There was lots of osprey activity. Across the cove area I noticed a kingfisher enjoying the rocks. I looked over to the Mercedes Benz parking lots and saw a bald eagle atop the big light poles. It's October and I have always noticed the balds on the Patapsco at this time of year. My guess is that they are coming from the north, performing their southward migration to South America to hang for the winter.

I wanted to know what the land looked like as it went out further to the point. So I started to walk northward. There was no trail, I was doing a lot of difficult bushwhack in lots of thorns and invasives. I got to an area where there was a group of trees and all hell seemed to break loose. The trees came alive with big blue herons squawking and flapping their wings. Now, this answered a question I had about the big blues. As an avid birder over at Ft. McHenry I always wondered where the herons lived, as they seemed to always fly in from Masonville Cove. Herons are very particular as to what type of tree they like to perch in. This little group of about 4 trees that I stumbled upon must be the home turf of the area's heron population. With all my crunching the herons decided to vacate the premises. Before I knew it there was a big flock of large blue herons flying around the Patapsco River Basin which looked totally cool. I felt bad for disturbing them, and this is probably why I later learned the Masonville Urban Bird Sanctuary is off-limit to humans. I suppose I must have been in the bird sanctuary part of the cove. Who knew?

I managed to make me way out to the tip of the point and saw some old rotting pier posts. There were a variety of gulls and cormorants basking in the sun. It was nice and peaceful, I found some old shards of chinaware that were unusual. When I was at the environmental center I had notice a very small picture display of the history of the point. Apparently there once was entire rowhouse neighborhood on the point that was demolished because the railroad wanted the land. There are some old pictures of the neighborhood on the website here. I wonder where Matson and Mavin Street, in Masonville Cove once were? The neighborhood had 50 houses, a store and gospel hall. Do you know? Please add a comment if you do.

Anyway, I was getting a little worried about my car and that gate so I left Masonville Cove, maybe one day I will visit their legal hiking trails and learn more, that is if the Visitor's Center staff is a little more welcoming.

Update January 3, 2011 I went back to Masonville Cove a few days ago. This time I left my car at the parking lot but outside the gate alongside the Environmental Center Sign. I learned that the Maryland Environmental Services team closes the gate precisely at 3:30PM and that it is legal to leave your car outside the gate but not blocking the entrance way. Forwarning: There was a lady-of-the-evening actively looking for business out on Fairfield Ave. so be very aware that this is going on in the immediate area. Take precautions and protect yourself, especially if you are female.

I bushwhacked back to the cove to the water's edge that is on the west side near the concrete plant. This is migratory duck heaven. I saw:

Ruddy Ducks
Common Mergansers both male AND female
Herring Gulls
Blackbacked Gulls
Big Blue Herons

Next time I visit I think I might park at the Park&Ride at the intersection of Hanover Street. I am going to wear my baggy pants and hood, and then walk up 1/2 mile on Fairfield Ave to get back to the cove. As a woman in this section of town I don't want to be all that visible.

A Review of the DeLorme PN60 and SPOT Communicator

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Before I begin I want to inform everyone that I am a long time user of DeLorme products. I cannot compare the DeLorme product line with any other brand because I simply don't know enough about Garmin and Magellan products.

The new PN60 and the SPOT Satellite communicator are the latest offering to the DeLorme handheld GPS product family. The increased functionality of the PN60 allows the user to take their hobbies and interests well beyond hiking, biking and geocaching. This is not your grandma's GPS. Yes, you can use it for all the basic activities but if that is all you need it to do I say save your money and use your iPhone.

First, let's talk about the SPOT Satellite communicator. When one is an avid backpacker they often find themselves in out-of-the-way places that don't have many cell towers. An accomplished backpacker will be prepared for anything and most likely won't get themselves into trouble. However, every single backpacker has some sort of paranoid relative who sits at home being a worrywart. If you are the worrywart please quit whining and kvetching, and buy the backpacker in your life this product. I won't lie to you, the SPOT is a bit cumbersome to use but it will allow a hiker to communicate through satellites from anywhere on earth, and send a 40 character message through email or a Facebook post. There are more communication options but those are the 2 that I use, check the specs for more information. The beauty of the SPOT communicator is it is one-way communication. The backpacker can send messages out, the worrywarts of the world can't send annoying messages back. The message receiver will also get a Google-style map with the exact location +- a few feet of where the hiker is. Oh, and if the hiker gets into trouble in the outback they can get help by sending a distress signal to the US Air Force, though my mother could care less about that feature as she just wants to know that I'm alive and be able to keep tabs on me.

But now let's talk about the good stuff. By good stuff I mean Digital Globe Aerial Imagery. We are talking 30 cm aerial imagery on the screen with a green arrow showing exactly where you are. It is all about the imagery. Think about the clarity of the imagery you see on Google Earth, this is almost as good. I would say that the GE imagery for my urban area is 20 cm, though I'm guessing. The Digital Globe imagery is available for most of the entire globe, which means everywhere. If you don't live in the United States don't dispair. The PN60 will still work very well for you with these new aerial images although you are out of luck if you reside on the Afghanistan/Pakistan mountain border, everywhere else is available. So if you are in the woods and are looking for an old foundation or an artifact then most likely you'll be able to see it on the screen of your PN60 and it is fast. For all you history buffs this is the device for you.

I don't wish to get long-winded with this review. The PN60 works much like the PN40. There are a few new features I would like to mention. First, the new Sync window that works with DeLorme TOPO9.0 Software. The Sync Window uses the power of the Internet to automatically connect with DeLorme's Netlink Server. Sync will take care of all the firmware updates for your PN60 as long as your PN60 is connected to your computer. There is no more fooling with downloading zip files and trying figure out how to update your device. A feature worth mentioning is that it has become abundantly easier to organize waypoints in files, and the PN60 will store them as gpx. The device will hold a lot of waypoints, for the exact number you'll have to check with DeLorme. I have yet to fill my PN60 to its waypoint capacity. Lastly, a feature I have used that his been helpful to me is the ability to calculate the area within a track line while standing anywhere. This little-known feature might be of use to insurance adjusters, farmers and anyone in the landscaping business.

Here is a list of helpful links.

Click here for General Information about the PN60 and SPOT Communicator. There is a tab near the top of that page for product specifications.

Click this link to learn more about the Digital Globe subscription.

Here is a review I wrote years ago about the PN40, which goes into more detail about the features available on that device. The PN 60 is very similar to the PN40.

Here are two interesting blog posts that I have created using the PN60. These are good examples of how to use a handheld GPS device for more than just geocaching and hiking:

Ghosts of Leakin Park site This site allows the user to learn about forgotten artifacts that can still be found in a popular and expansive urban park. This site took me months to create but has proved to be quite popular.

The Famous People Buried at Green Mount Cemetery site This site allows one to find the grave markers of several notable people buried in the cemetery. One may use the site to transfer the placemarks to any brand of GPS or phone so they may easily find the graves that interest them.