Police Connect Killing in Bethesda, Home Invasions

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Detectives have definitively linked this month's slaying of a 63-year-old woman in her Bethesda home to two earlier break-ins targeting elderly residents in affluent parts of the county, Montgomery County police said yesterday.

Detectives believe that a single assailant committed all three crimes, and they continue to investigate whether that person invaded three other homes in the past year, one in Northwest Washington and the others in Montgomery. None of the victims in those cases was critically injured, but each was bound, as Bethesda resident Mary Frances Havenstein was, and one was not discovered for two days.

"We continue to investigate all six cases under the premise that they are related," Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said.

Also yesterday, a victims' rights group announced a reward of as much as $5,000 for information leading to an arrest or charges in the slaying of Havenstein, who was found inside her home Sept. 4. The group will try to boost the reward to $50,000 through donations.

"This person could strike again," said Greg Wims, president of the Victims' Rights Foundation. "We want to get him off the streets. We see that he has a pattern now, a pattern of attacking people in their 60s and older."

The slaying heightened anxieties that had been simmering in recent months as the number of home invasions grew and as authorities expressed concern that people might be seriously harmed.

More than 300 residents turned out for a community meeting about the investigation last Tuesday at Seven Locks Elementary School, a crowd so big that people were turned away, county officials said. County officials plan to hold another meeting Oct. 6 at a larger venue, but the location has not been finalized.

Near Havenstein's home, neighbors have greatly increased their use of an e-mail discussion group to exchange information and are keeping a closer eye on each other's houses, according to JJ MacNab, one of the residents. Neighbors "are making a serious effort to connect with the seniors who are at risk in our community," MacNab said, adding that the neighborhood has suddenly "taken on a small-town familiarity even though we're a large D.C. suburb."

Police have not said how Havenstein was killed. A car believed to have been stolen from Havenstein was recovered Sept. 4 in the Takoma Park area.

Police declined to say yesterday which two home invasions they had linked to the Havenstein case, except to say that they occurred in Montgomery.

The first of the attacks occurred Sept. 17, 2007, when a man broke through a basement window of a Bethesda home, disabled a circuit breaker and assaulted a 92-year-old woman. In the months that followed, similar attacks occurred in Chevy Chase, Potomac and Bethesda as well as in the Foxhall area of Washington.

Police have not developed a detailed description of the assailant, saying in a news release yesterday that he "usually hides his face from view." Some of the victims have described him as Hispanic and in his early 20s with a medium build, police said.

Police are asking anyone with information about the Havenstein case to call detectives at 240-773-5070.

Contributions for the reward fund may be sent to the Victims' Rights Foundation, 814 W. Diamond Ave., Suite 200, Gaithersburg, Md. 20878. Checks should be made payable to the Victims' Rights Foundation; please write "Home Invasion Homicide Fund" in the memo section of the check.

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