By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 26, 2007
An office crush gone terribly, tragically wrong.
Stalking. Break-ins. A fit over food. Poison.
And the story got darker.
How a middle-aged, highly regarded chemist in Frederick terrorized his younger, attractive co-worker is the subject of an engaging and especially chilling episode tonight of "The Investigators," a docu-series on Court TV.
The show plays out like a short horror movie as cautionary tale.
Based largely on a 2002 article in The Washington Post Magazine, the program chronicles Alan Chmurny's bizarre, four-year fixation with Marta Bradley. What started off as a crush turned into stalking and ended in suicide -- in open court, no less.
The headline on the Post article was "Obsession." The title of the Court TV episode is "Mad Scientist." Both ring true.
"It's the weirdest and strangest case I've ever handled," stony-faced Lt. Glenn Case, of the Howard County Police, says early in the show.
The office relationship began benignly. Chmurny, a 50-something classical-music buff, took a special interest in Bradley, a 20-something part-time bass player who had gigs around the Washington area. The two, both married, worked at Oceanix Biosciences Corp., in a relatively small office in Anne Arundel County. They gossiped, joked.
Over time, Chmurny grew increasingly attached to Bradley -- to the point that when she said she preferred another co-worker's more traditional deviled eggs to his elaborate, caviar-topped creation at a holiday office party, Chmurny broke down. A grown man in tears over eggs.
Something wasn't right.
The show uses interviews that, while brief, are effective in explaining the escalation of this sad, scary story. (Among those shedding light on the case: co-worker Jean Lancaster, prosecutor Jim Dietrich and Chmurny's attorney, Dino Flores.) The details of the obsession are astounding, even diabolical, as if the tormented, mysterious Chmurny were straight out of an Edgar Allan Poe tale.
At one point, Chmurny wrote "I LOVE YOU" on the window of her car. He broke into her home several times, opening her drawers and stealing her lingerie. He once followed her to work, at one point pulling his car next to hers.
Things got so bad, Bradley says in the show, that "every time I went to my car and turned the ignition, I wondered if it was going to blow."
Says her husband, Scot Bradley: "It was frustrating. The worry, in the back of your mind, all the time -- is he going to do something today? Is Marta going to be okay?"
Locking Chmurny up proved difficult, particularly because he stalked her in different parts of the Washington area and Bradley had to report his actions to different jurisdictions. Each time, the show indicates, local police and judges didn't know the full story.
In addition, Chmurny had no criminal record and was seen as an upstanding citizen, a respected member of the scientific community. He also got defensive; he turned the tables on Bradley and said he was being framed by his younger co-worker whose advances he had dismissed.
"Any person needs to just pay attention to what their guts say about somebody else," Bradley says. "I don't think you're always going to know somebody 100 percent. I think, though, that if you have something telling you that something is not right, that you pay attention to it. And the sooner the better."
Investigators such as Lt. Case needed hard evidence. Chmurny unwittingly provided it when he put mercury in her car seat. That was attempted murder, and Chmurny was the chief suspect. When police searched Chmurny's home, they found other critical evidence -- most crucially, a piece of paper that read: "What's the difference between Marta Bradley and a female bass player that is going to be raped, castrated, have her face mutilated, and have all her fingers in both hands cut off?" He answered: "There is no difference."
But the biggest question of all -- the one that investigators, Chmurny's attorneys and his family (his wife and daughter aren't on the show) have no answer to -- was: What was Chmurny's state of mind?
Post journalist Peter Perl, who wrote the magazine story, says in the show: "Nobody ever got a sense of what really made this man tick."
Not even when Chmurny, immediately after the jury said he was guilty on five of six counts of assault and reckless endangerment, took his own life by swallowing a cyanide pill.
The Investigators: Mad Scientist (one hour) premieres tonight at 10 on Court TV.