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Posted at 06:02 PM ET, 05/31/2012

Montgomery County drops murder charge in cold case

Montgomery County prosecutors dropped a murder charge Thursday against Bobby Coley saying there was insufficient evidence to hold him, and sent the 1975 case in which he was implicated to the county police cold case unit for further investigation.


Bobby L. Coley (Courtesy Montgomery County Police)
The decision preserves the right to pursue charges later. Coley is due to be released from the county detention center Thursday evening, according to a statement from State’s Attorney John McCarthy.

McCarthy’s office declined further comment citing the ongoing cold case investigation.

The decision to drop the murder charge was another quick pivot in an already headspinning two days in which Coley, 63, of the District, walked into the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday hoping to clear up what he thought was a minor warrant because he was trying to get a job.

A records check by deputies found a murder warrant for Coley from 1984 alleging he had been part of a murder for hire plot against a Wheaton man arranged by the man’s wife and relayed to police through a series of confidential sources, according to the warrant.

Coley was taken into custody. But during a District Court court appearance Wednesday in Rockville, prosecutor John Feeney told a judge that “quite candidly we cannot tell you what the viability of this case is at this point.” He also said that Coley had denied being part of a murder plot.

District Court Judge Eugene Wolfe held Coley without bond and gave the state a week to come back with additional facts before he would revisit whether to continue to detain Coley.

The state was back in a day.

The murder charge stems from a 1975 event in which Frances “Ricky” Chromak told police that her husband, Leopold Chromak, then 29, had disappeared after leaving their apartment in Wheaton.

According to information police said they gained from a series of confidential sources over several years and presented in their 1984 warrant, Frances Chromak had hired men to kill her husband after he allegedly abused her. Leopold Chromak’s body was never found and he has not been heard from since 1975, according to police statements.

On Wednesday, authorities said it was not immediately clear whether Frances Chromak or anyone else had been charged before, and detectives were scrambling to dig up details of the cold case. Feeney said in court that Frances Chromak is thought to be alive.

Over the past two days, The Washington Post has been unable to locate a working phone or current address for Frances Chromak or her relatives.

Coley’s attorney, John Lavigne, did not respond to an interview request Thursday afternoon. He had noted during the Wednesday hearing that “we don’t even know if there was a murder, because we don’t even know if the person is dead. . .

“If this gentleman is actually even dead, I think the state, at this point, would have a very difficult time coming close to proving it,” Lavigne said Wednesday.

By  |  06:02 PM ET, 05/31/2012

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