Shirley Hutchinson is being evicted next month from her cinder-block house on a deeply rutted dirt lane off Lottsford Road, near the Capital Centre and the Beltway, to make way for development, but she's not really upset about it.
"It's scary back here at night," said Hutchinson, 44, who has three teen-agers and three watchdogs. People "finding dead bodies in the road and all, that's the only thing that scares me."
Lottsford Road, a 2.2-mile stretch of narrow, winding country highway with bullet-riddled road signs, scares most of the dozen or so families who live by it. Properties are posted "No Trespassing" and "No Dumping." And many of the residents say they refuse to drive the unlighted lane after dark.
Planners have identified it as a "scenic road" in a rural setting worth protecting for weekend drivers. But over the years, it has achieved a macabre reputation as a dumping ground for bodies.
Last month, the latest victim's accused killer was convicted at the courthouse in Upper Marlboro of murder. A hearing on whether Julius Sylvester Bailey should receive the death penalty for the murder of Catholic University student Anne Lee Boggs is scheduled for Oct. 22.
Police count five corpses brought in from elsewhere that have been found near the road since 1974: Bernard Carter in 1974, John Howard in 1979, Martin Selmer in 1981; Victor F. Green in 1982 and Boggs in December 1983.
A sixth, resident Joan Elam, was burned to death in her driveway in July 1977. A seventh victim, Denise Cooper, was killed there in 1974 but her body was dumped elsewhere. Others claim as many as 14 bodies have turned up by Lottsford Road in recent years.
"Every time they'd turn around, they were finding either a prostitute from the District or a dope dealer from downtown," said Mount Rainier Police Chief Dennis Husk, recalling his days as a county police officer around 1970. Added Prince George's Police Maj. George Robinson, whose large district includes Lottsford Road, "It's an attractive place to dump a refrigerator, or a body."
The road's reputation, rooted in fact, has been embellished by its legends and its looks. It is a sunken road, depressed by years of first wagon and then automobile traffic. In many places, there are no shoulders, only steep banks of red clay topped with tall, mature trees.
With new homes sprouting along nearby Enterprise Road, rush-hour commuters increasingly use Lottsford -- also known as Snake Road -- as a shortcut. But, later, in the country darkness, this accessible but lonely lane evokes frightening images.
"I guess that's about the lonesomest road there is," said Irwin Windsor, a 64-year-old farmer who once had a body dumped in his driveway. "That's close enough for me."
With roosters crowing and Windsor relaxing in view of an ageless tobacco barn, the scene looks idyllic. But there is noise from the nearby Beltway and Landover Road, an occasional jet flying overhead from Andrews Air Force Base and . . . the bodies, he said, "that's been coming here for years."
"This is the body road right here, that's what I call it," said George Reed, 61, who lives in a cluster of homes at the end of the road.
"It's pretty peaceful up this section," says his neighbor, George Strayhan. "But I wouldn't want to live in the bottom," the area west of Western Branch, a stream bisecting Lottsford Road. A one-lane bridge called "Cry-Baby Bridge" spans the creek.
"When you drive over this bridge on a cloudy night when there are no stars shining, you can hear the crying of a baby," according to a booklet of county lore published this year by students at Queen Anne School, an Episcopal academy located a few miles from Lottsford Road.
One foggy night, the story goes, a car ran out of gas on the bridge. The husband in the car went to get help and left his wife there with their child in the back seat. After a minute, the wife saw the baby's decapitated head on the hood. She ran to find her husband. When they returned, they could find nothing -- no baby, no blood. The baby was never found, according to the tale.
"It's so secluded, you'd think it was 100 miles down in the country," said Virginia Houchen, a 20-year resident. " . . . As long as they're not grabbing and killing us, you don't get frightened."
She recalled one Lottsford Road murder in which the victim was clubbed to death with a billiard cue. Her neighbors recalled other murders. Some of them police confirmed, others are too old to verify or have been blurred into legend.
George Wilburn said his son-in-law, who lives across the street, found a man "laying face down in the creek" by the bridge some years ago. Fourteen-year-old Jeff Huff, Wilburn's grandson, told of a dead woman who had been raped.
The road is so scary, it doesn't take a corpse to terrify people. Police and residents recall rape victims who survived, drug parties and drunk drivers disturbing the peace.
"Not too long ago, two guys who were drinking hit a telephone pole with their car," said young Huff. "It knocked the electricity out. A big ball of fire went off right by my window. I didn't know what it was. I was scared."
Houchen, a retired high school teacher, spoke for many of her neighbors on concerns about the road. "I'd drive it in the morning but would not take it home at night because you're a sitting duck," she said. "If you come to a car in the middle of the road, you've got to stop. There's no way around."
Current county plans call for the road to be widened by 1988 -- from its 16-18 feet to 24 feet. But the residents have heard that before and are skeptical.
"It will still be scenic," promised Alexander (Ike) Fleury, program coordinator for the county's Department of Public Works and Transportation.
A study issued by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission staff in March pointed to Lottsford Road as a "scenic road." Scenic roads, the study said, provide "valuable insight into the county's rural past and represents welcome visual contrast to the remainder of the county's urban and suburban areas. These valuable resources may, however, be damaged or destroyed by future development activities. . . . "
In fact, little development is planned for Lottsford Road. But back in the feared Colby's Hollow, the area from which the Hutchinsons must move by Oct. 31 -- Halloween -- the Collington Episcopal Life Care Association has plans for a retirement community. According to county planners, the church group expects to build 180 town houses, 120 garden apartments and the 120-bed Lottsford Continuing Care Facility, a place for peace and quiet.