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.