Enhanced video helps lead to arrest in old D.C. slaying

By Theola Labbé-DeBose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sharon Moskowitz was a young woman working at the Japanese Embassy and living in Adams Morgan in 1997 when she arrived home one afternoon and was killed.

D.C. police say Moskowitz, 25, returned to her apartment Jan. 21 after stepping out to buy some cold medicine. Two burglars in her building, in the 1900 block of Biltmore Street, attacked Moskowitz, tying her hands behind her back and binding her ankles with rope. She was strangled with her own white scarf.

The assailants stole her credit cards and used them in the days afterward at grocery stores in Maryland. Even though police released surveillance footage of the suspects shopping, leads dried up. The assailants remained on the loose -- for the next 12 years.

Police announced Tuesday that they had finally arrested someone in the slaying. Frederick Edward Morton, 57, was brought to the District on Monday from a federal prison in Allenwood, Pa., and D.C. detectives charged him on Tuesday with first-degree murder.

Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier credited enhanced surveillance video that police re-released in September with helping stir new leads in the case. The U.S. Secret Service were able to sharpen images of the two assailants pushing a grocery cart in a Giant Food store, and D.C. police released the video for a second time, asking the public for clues in solving the crime.

"The public came forward -- almost immediately, calls came in," Lanier said.

Lanier said that some developments in the dozen years between the crime and the arrest were helpful to closing the case, such as more sophisticated technology to improve the video quality and the increased willingness of once-reluctant witnesses to come forward.

"In many instances, members of the family think that in a cold case, we have forgotten. I assure you that we have not," Lanier said.

In the video, a man wearing glasses, an overcoat and a gray sweat shirt with "PITT" on the front is in the dairy aisle of a Giant in Shaw, at Seventh and O streets NW. He picks up a gallon of milk as a woman accompanying him pushes a cart. With the enhanced images, detectives were able to identify and track down Morton, police said. They did not say what happened to the other person in the video.

The killing rocked the quiet Adams Morgan neighborhood, with outraged neighbors flocking to community meetings and demanding more police protection.

At the time of Moskowitz's killing, she had been living in the District for just a few months, having moved from Connecticut. Then-boyfriend Simon Hirschfeld described her as "funnier and smarter than you can imagine."

"Someone made her suffer and took her life for next to nothing, and this happens every day," he told The Washington Post in 1997.

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