When Isidoros Zozos and his wife, Margo, signed a contract to buy the modest brick row house in Eastwood, a blue-collar suburban neighborhood just over the city line, they were also asked to sign an unusual document binding them to close the deal.
By signing the paper, they acknowledged they knew the recent history of the house and its former owner, 68-year-old Roman Welzant.
Last Jan. 4, Welzant -- after a dozen years of harassment by teen-agers and an evening of terror during which his home was repeatedly bombarded by snowballs, his screen door kicked in and his life allegedly threatened -- emerged from his row house and, pistol in hand, fatally shot 18-year-old Albert R. Kahl Jr. and critically wounded Kahl's best friend, 16-year-old James K. Willey.
The night of the shooting, according to evidence produced later, the youths had been drinking -- 12 to 14 beers in Kahl's case. At the trial in June, Welzant said he acted in self-defense and the jury believed him, acquitting him of all charges.
The shooting and the trial propelled the elderly couple, he a retired kitchen salesman and she a retired bank teller, into the national news. To some who followed the case, Welzant wasa hero, and his ordeal a symbol of the plight of the elderly and the indignities suffered upon them by the young.
To others, "Cameraman" -- as Welzant was sometimes known -- was a symbol of intolerance, a snappish old man who would appear outside his house to photograph neighborhood teen-agers even as he berated them.
Today, teen-agers no longer hang out near the house at 424 Overview Ave. Nor do they harass its occupants. While the Zozos enjoy the tranquility and the friendship of their new neighbors, the Welzants are miles away, trying to start over again in an adults-only apartment complex, far away from the old house they miss so much.
The neighborhood is quiet, without a trace of the tragedy that brought it national notoriety. For the people most directly involved, however, life will never be the same.
Three blocks from the Welzants' old house, Frances Kahl's venetian blinds stay shut; she is still in mournig for her dead son.
Kahl sees a psychiatrist and a faith healer to help her cope, while her husband, a crane operator, refuses to cry and works seven days a week to hide his sorrow. Their son's room remains unchanged, except for a punching bag behind the door, which sometimes has a photograph of Welzant affixed to it. Since the old man's acquittal, punching his picture is the only retribution the Kahl's can take for the loss of their son.
"It's turned us all so full of hate, we don't believe there's any justice anywhere," Kahl says. "They say a tragedy either brings a family together or destroys it. It's destroyed everything."
The Welzants say they pray for the Kahls "and for us, everytime we go to church." Roman Welzant is filled with regret but not remorse.
"It's a shame it had to happen that way," he said, dressed in a blue pinstriped suit and seated in his lawyer's office in Towson the other day. "But it was all their doing, really. They brought it on themselves."
Jenny Welzant cries a lot ("That's my second name," she says), takes tranquilizers and pines for the old house where she reared three children and had hoped to spend their retirement.After the shooting, there were threats on their lives and they have never been back. Welzant spends much of his time "running errands for her because she's afraid to go out of the door." He is also serving on a federal grand jury, hearing evidence of robberies, mostly.
Unlike his wife, Welzant does not cry but he hurts just the same. For one thing, he had to give away his tools, which this proud Polish son of East Baltimore enjoyed using around the house. "You can't work on an apartment like you can a home, he says. "In fact, you're forbidden to do anything. We don't even have a flower garden anymore."
For a survivor of the Great Depression, to whom owning a home symbolized success and security, renting an apartment is a "strange thing we're getting used to," Welzant said. "It's like a plant being uprooted out of the ground and replanted somewhere else. It doesn't do as well."
The Welzants moved to their new apartment in August, after living for several months with their daughter, Nancy Gavin. Gavin is writing a book about the tragedy from her perspective, but her father is not the hero. "My husband is the hero," she said. "He was the touchstone. He kept us all together." Michael Gavin died last March of a brain tumor.
The shooting, which was dubbed "the snowball tragedy" by a Baltimore newspaper, was the subject of a report last month on the television show "60 minutes." Opinions on how the show presented the incident are divided.
"People around the country would wonder why my father is walking around free," says Gavin, who is sharply critical of the TV program for being unfair to her father. Those close to Albert Kahl felt otherwise, saying the segment had succeeded in presenting both sides.
Isidoros Zozos did not see the show although his home was featured. "This I realize," said Zozos, 33 a Greek immigrant who came to this country 10 years ago. "I'm not this guy. I'm different guy. To me, it's his problem. yIt's not my problem. The teen-agers don't bother me."
In fact, Mark Silvestri, 14, in whose living room Albert Kahl died, has helped Zozos, shoveling snow and doing yard work. Nick Silvestri, Mark's father and a real estate broker, represented the Zozos in the sale, which was closed Oct. 29 for $43,000 on the Zozos' third bid.
Mark Silvestri took a reporter the other day to Albert Kahl's snowcovered grave in nearby Oak Lawn Cemetery. It was decorated for the holiday season with artificial Christmas trees and wreaths, plastic Santa Clauses, a styrofoam cross and gaily wrapped gift boxes. Silvestri, who had partied with the teen-agers but left them before the shooting, crossed himself and bowed his head.
The grave is by a fence, with a road behind it. "At night, we always throw a beer over to Albert," Mark Silvestri said. "He loved to drink."
On the first anniversary of the shooting last Sunday, the Kahls visited the grave, then spent the day at home. Jenny Welzant cried.
Over the holidays, the Silvestri boys, Mark and Michael, brought Frances Kahl poinsettas. Nicky Gentille, another youth involved in the incident, visits her every week, although he was not a close friend of Albert and had never met his mother before the shooting. Of the others there that night, Jimmy Willey still has a bullet in his back but is able to play soccer for Dundalk High School, where he is in his senior year. Tommy Sanzone joined the Army last summer, and is a medic, learning how to heal people and save lives.
In June, a $149 contribution was sent to the Welzant legal defense fund from 40 unnamed persons at Dundalk High School. Around the same time, the boys and girls of the Eastwood Recreation Association chipped in to buy a plaque in Albert Kahl's Memory, but the senior Citizen's who share the building in sight of the Welzant's old home objected to its placement there, Frances Kahl said. It is hanging in the Kahls' television room instead.
"I wish you could've met him," Frances Kahl told a visitor. "He wasn't a bad boy."