The deputies quickly confirmed that the warrant was valid and took Coley, of the District, into custody — opening up a case that has raised as many questions as answers.
“Quite candidly,” prosecutor Peter Feeney told District Court Judge Eugene Wolfe on Wednesday, “we cannot tell you what the viability of this case is at this point.”
Viable or not, the allegations are startling:
In 1975, according to the original 1984 arrest warrant, Frances “Ricky” Chromak told police that her husband, Leopold Chromak, then 29, had disappeared after leaving their apartment in Wheaton.
In fact, according to the warrant, she hired men to kill Leopold because he allegedly beat her, broke her nose, tried to force her to have sex with her dog and then killed the dog. Coley was identified as one of the hit men, who strangled or suffocated the victim, wrapped him up and took his body away, according to the arrest warrant.
As the allegations were stated in court Wednesday, Coley, wearing a green jail jumpsuit, his hair flecked with gray, shook his head. He was otherwise calm — as officials said he was the day before when placed under arrest. A prosecutor said in court that Coley had denied being involved in a murder but had told of meeting Leopold Chromak, apparently in a half-way house.
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.
The Washington Post was unable to locate a working phone or current address for Chromak or her relatives. At one point, according to the arrest warrant, she changed her name to Barbara Ann Stevens.
Leopold Chromak has not been heard from since 1975, according to police records. His body has not been found.
Coley’s attorney, John Lavigne, noted in court that Leopold Chromak was on parolein the 1970s.
“We don’t even know if there was a murder, because we don’t even know if the person is dead or if he just absconded from parole and disappeared,” Lavigne said.
Coley continues to be held without bond. Wolfe, the judge, gave prosecutors time to come back with more facts. “You have one week to do something and do something very seriously,” Wolfe said. “Otherwise in one week, we’re probably going to look at this differently.”
Even back in the 1970s and ’80s, the case was a long time in developing. Although the disappearance dates to 1975, it wasn’t until 1981 that Detective Gerald A. Boone got a big break in the case, according to the arrest affidavit he wrote in 1984.