He never knew their names, these generations of teen-agers who taunted him over the years, bombarding his beloved home with snowballs, eggs and stones, breaking his windows and littering his yard, disturbing him night after night with boisterous drinking and loud obscenities.
And, although they were his neighbors and went to his church, Our Lady of Fatima, the teen-agers never knew the old man's name, either. They knew him simply as "Cameraman" -- a solitary figure who often emerged from his home to snap their pictures and give them hell.
On the stormy night of Jan. 4, Roman George Welzan, 68 years old, confronted a group of his young tormentors with a .22-caliber gun after a barrage of snowballs hit his house. In what he contends was self-defense and the state alleges was second-degree murder, he fired four shots, killing Albert Raymond Kahl Jr., 18, and seriously wounding James F. Willey, 16. a
The shooting of the youths, who lived next-door to each other and were the best of friends, has badly shaken their working-class suburb of Eastwood, a development of 1,077 modest two-and-three-bedroom, brick townhouses and 3,600 people on the eastern fringe of Baltimore. They are mostly conservative Catholics, earning their living in the steel mills and shipyards of nearby Dundalk and Sparrows Point.
The incident has, in the minds of some, turned Welzan -- a proud Polish son of a East Baltimore a firm believer in law and order and the work ethic, and now, a murder suspect free on $10,000 bond -- into an anti-hero of near tragic proportions, a senior citizen's symbol of resistance to the indignities sometimes inflicted by the young upon the old.
A Baltimore newspaper called it The Snowball Tragedy , and letters of support flowed into Welzant's lawyer's office carrying the message that, as one woman wrote, "others care," and containing donations of $1, $2 and $5 toward a legal defense fund that now totals $1,311.
The teen-ager's families have also heard from the public, in angry anonymous phone calls and ugly poison-pen letters. "Your son is dirt. Now go over to the cemetery and sow it," said a note sent to the funeral home for Albert Kahl's parents. "Why does Albert have to pay for something that's been going on for 13 years?" asks Frances Kahl, the mother of the dead youth, as she sits in her compact and tidy living room with its console stereo, velvet wall painting, artificial flowers and madonna figurine.
"Al didn't believe in fighting," she said. "My husband would say, 'Boy, you gotta start taking up for yourself.!' He'd say, 'Dad, what does it prove?' He was the type that didn't believe in fistfighting."
Until her son's death, Kahl did not know Welzant was her neighbor in Eastwood, although they had come from the same city neighborhood and she had attended school with his oldest son.
For 42 years, Roman Welzant had lived in East Baltimore. It was where he was born, grew up and met his wife, Genevieve. The Welzants' three children -- Robert, 42, Nancy, 41, and Martin, 34 -- were reared in the old 12-foot-wide rowhouse the family owned near Patterson Park.
Then, in the early '50's, a new development known as Eastwood rose just beyond the city limits, in the shadow of a 300,000-gallon city water-tank -- a triangular-shaped neighborhood surrounded now by three main highways -- I95, North Penn Boulevard and Eastern Avenue.
They bought a 16-foot-wide corner rowhouse there in December 1953 for $10,000, with a $5,700, 20-year mortgage paid in full after only 13 years. "This was our opportunity to move into better living," Welzant said.
For 24 years, he sold shoes. Then, for 18 more, he peddled kitchen equipment to retail outlets while his wife worked her way up to head teller at a bank. An eighth-grade dropout, Welzant took a course in kitchen design. He was a good salesman, good enough to afford a boat, moored at Miller Island and a Cadillac, which he religiously polished. But his greatest pride was the house at 424 Overview Ave.
"You work for 45 years, never on welfare, never on unemployment, and live through the Great Depression," he said. "I guarantee you're proud of it. It doesn't come easy."
When they first moved to Eastwood, the house was at the end of a dead end street, adjoining an open field, which was sometimes used by a traveling circus, and in front of an abandoned city reservoir. Their children, however, were already largely grown, and the Welzants' social life continued to revolve around their old friends from the city. In Eastwood, people say, the Welzants pretty much kept to themselves.
In time, the reservoir behind their house was filled in and turned into a playing field. "Top Field," the young people called it. And, in the 1960s, an elementary school was built on the vacant field aand the dead-end road was extended through to Eastern Avenue.
The teen-ageers would hang out at the High's store on Eastern Avenue, over at Top Field and on Welzant's retaining wall and in his alley. These hangouts were long established. Welzant's son, Martin, was once picked up for loitering at the High's store.
"The only thing to do around here was to hang out," said Michael Sanzone, who goes to Dundalk High School and wants to be a welder. "Get some beer and hand out, that's all. We had to make our own fun."
But Welzant didn't think it was fun. "Every year, it got progressively worse," he said. "They became more sophisticated. The drinking increased. Beer bottles and glass . . . our yard was cleaned up as a regular chore."
To him, it was no less than an invasion of a man's castle. "There are Depression people," his daughter explained. "Most started with little or nothing. It just destroys them to have their property vandalized. The younger generation, everything's handed to them. They are a throwaway generation."
On a recent weekday afternoon, as he sat in his lawyer's office in Towson, the accumulated tales of horror spewed forth from Welzant and from Jenny, his wife.
"Our sloping grass was set afire," said Welzant, an angry, diminutive man wearing a black suit.
"They set our lawn on fire, also, and out hedges," said Mrs. Welzant. "They threw eggs on the porch, a beer bottle through our front window."
"Sixty-five percent of our windows were broken at one time or another," Welzant said. "Four times our stormdoor glass was broken. Once, two BB pellets came through the door while we were sitting there."
"They threw rocks -- you can imagine what that sounded like," said Mrs. Welzant. "They made dents in the awning above our patio in back."
"I still can't understand," said Welzant. "Why, when I was out there cutting the lawn, they'd call me a four-letter-word old man. They seemed to resent the fact that I was old."
They went to the civic association to complain, almost every month. "When we came back," said Mrs. Welzant, "we were taunted: 'Gonna sell your house? Gonna sell your house?'"
They thought about moving to Florida, perhaps. But the move kept getting delayed. There was her ulcer operation, than his for glaucoma.
Welzant called the police many times. On four occasions, the police from nearby Essex filled out official destruction of property reports. But the police always arrived after the vandals had scattered, and Welzant could not identify them.
He began taking pictures of the softball games on Top Field, he said. Although he insists he took only on photo of his tormentors, he became known in the neighborhood as "Cameraman."
"The camera business is probably their guilt complex because they're afraid of having their pictures taken," he said.
"He used to just come out, take pictures of us, yell, just for sitting on his wall," said Martin Willey, now 30, an older brother of the wounded youth. "Nobody ever really harmed him."
"I don't know why he took pictures, but it scared you," said James Willey, an intense-looking youth with an incipient moustache. "One time, he took the picture of me and a friend and said, 'I got you now' and left. Most of the time, the only reason we stayed there was for spite. If he'd ask us to leave, we probably would've."
"The kids say he's a crackpot," says Roy Willey, his father. "He seemed to get a delight outa hollering at 'em. You treat 'em with respect, they act the same way. You treat 'em as hoodlums, they're gonna act like hoodlums. He thought he was sheriff of Eastwood."
But the neighbors who live on Overview, in the houses near Welzant's say he never bothered anybody. Severaal said they, too, had been victimized by teen-age vandals, but he fought back.
"He would come out and holler at them," said one neighbor. "They'd make fun of him and laugh at him. I got news for you, if I had a gun, I would've shot 'em myself."
By his account, Welzant purchased a pistol at least 10 years ago. "I was thinking, from what's going on, me being on the end in the dark, if they come in this house, I gotta have something.
"Because those people's records of murder, rape and vandalism is well documented, let me tell you."
The fact that he didn't know who his tormentors were only intensified the fear for Welzant.
"I'm not a shooter," he said. "I don't know how the hell to shoot. This gun had never been fired."
Until the night of Jan. 4, that is.
Eastwood is a "very low crime area," according to Cpl. Robert Fletcher of the Essex police department. "It's basically a very quite neighborhood," he said. "Crime-wise complaints we get are kids hanging around, making too much noise. When it snows, we get snowball complaints."
The night of Friday, Jan. 4, the police got two snowball complaints from Roman Welzant.
A group of teen-agers that included James Willey and Albert Kahl had been drinking in an abandoned house on Eastern Avenue when "somebody said let's get some more beer and throw some snowballs," Willey said.
On their way to buy a six-pack, they stopped at Mike Silvestri's house, and the first round of snowballs was hurled at Welzant's home across Overview Avenue.
Welzant called the police at 9:15 p.m., but by the time police arrived, the youths were gone from the scene and, despite Welzant's pleas that the officer remain and a seemingly casual comment that he might have to shoot someone to get action, homicide squad Capt. Jack C. Freeland said, "The officer had no choice but to leave."
The teen-agers returned. There were eight of them now and, Willey said, "We started throwing snowballs at his house."
"The bombardment was so intense," Welzant told police, "I thought they were kicking in the front door." He called the police again, but did not wait for their arrival.
Instead, he grabbed the gun he kept loaded upstairs and went outside. There were two warning shots, and there were words back and forth. "I'll beat all your asses," Willey remembers the "Cameraman" saying. "You punks better come up here. I'll fight you now," Mike Sanzone remembers him saying.
Welzant will not discuss the events of that evening. But in a statement to police he said: "I approached them in an effort to identify them. They advanced on me. I fired a warning shot in the air. I retreated toward my home. They followed, cursing and challenging me to fight."
The boys thought the gun was full of blanks and they told him so. Welzant told police the gun went off accidentally as first one youth, Willey, and then another, Kahl, grabbed his arms.
Willey said Kahl and another youth had walked toward Welzant "and I was walking behind them, telling them to settle down. We were standing a couple of feet from him. We were saying it was a blank gun. I turned around. He stuck it in my stomach. I don't remember anything after that."
"Albert tried to go after him, seeing his best friend shot," Sanzone said. "Before he could touch him, 'Cameraman' shot him right in the heart."
The youths helped Willey to his house a couple of blocks away and brought Albert Kahl into the Silvestri home across the street. Willey would spend two weeks in the hospital with a bullet lodged in his back. Albert Kahl was dead.
Kahl's father did not know this when he went to the Silvestris to get his son. He saw him lying on the floor with his eyes open, and said "Get up, boy, get up. You got your mother worried sick."
Albert Kahl was not a good student, a fact his mother blames on a sugar deficiency when he was young, but he was due to graduate this spring from Dundalk High School. He liked to bowl and go hunting once a year with his father. "I can't say Albert was an angel, but he ws no worse than others," his mother said. "They're just normal, active boys and girls."
Albert Kahl's room remains untouched more than a month after his death. There are the baseball Oriole pictures, the Cheryl Tiggs poster, the Eastwood Recreation Association trophies neatly lined up on shelves shared with the small statues of the Virgin Mary and John F. Kennedy and a sign that says, "You are the only one to stop war. Be peaceful every day."
"My husband won't let me touch his room," Mrs. Kahl said. "If he'd let me get rid of some of the things it might be easier for us, but he won't let me touch any of it."
When, for the first time since the shooting, the Eastwood Civic Association met Jan. 30, its president, Virginia Gustavson, feared an emotional, divisive evening but "everything went perfect." Frances Kahl rose to speak. She said she hoped the poison pen letters would stop. "I just wanted them to know I didn't raise dirt," she said.
During the last month, the neighborhood has been almost eerily quiet: The teen-agers no longer hang out at the High's store or in Welzant's alley near Top Field. "No Trespassing After Dark" signs are posted now in several locations.
The young people now go to the Eastwood recreation program at the school to play basketball, darts, Ping-Pong and pinball machines. "Since this happened, the boys are coming up here every night," said Mary Faegley, an adult volunteer. "Everyone's working to get them in here."
The Welzant house is empty now, its shades drawn. Roman and Genevieve Walzant are living at an undisclosed location in the Baltimore area.
"We woull like to live there in peace," Welzant said of his Eastwood home, "but we can never go back. What they've succeeded in doing is uprooting us from our house that we've worked a lifetime for. That's what they accomplished."
About the shooting, Welzant said: "I feel real bad about it. I can't even explain to you how bad I feel."
Albert Kahl Jr. is buried in Oak Lawn cemetery, across Eastern Avenue from Eastwood. "I think it's kind of nice he's so close," said Diane Silvestri, whose children were among his friends. "The boys can stop by and visit with him after church."
"I think they have learned a vital lesson," she added. "It's made them grow up and more adult-like about a lot of things, how serious life is and how quickly it can be taken away."