Police investigating the slaying of a suburban Baltimore pastor found stabbed on Christmas Eve said yesterday that the minister had been robbed of crack cocaine and had drug paraphernalia in his mobile home.
Those allegations about the Rev. Samuel Nathaniel Booth Jr., 55, contrasted sharply with the image of the minister held by members of his Christian Faith Tabernacle Church in Essex, Md., who knew him as a kindhearted man who often helped young men addicted to drugs.
A visitor to Booth's home, James Thomas Wood, 24, of Abingdon, Md., was charged with murder and robbery in the slaying in the mobile home behind the church. Wood, who turned himself in on Christmas, appeared in District Court in Towson, Md., yesterday and was denied bond by Judge A. Gordon Boone Jr.
Baltimore County police said they believe Wood used a six-inch kitchen knife to repeatedly stab the pastor. According to charging documents filed in court, Wood admitted to stealing about $40 worth of crack and just less than $80 from Booth.
Police spokesman E. Jay Miller said officers searched the trailer Monday and found drug paraphernalia hidden in the bathroom.
"We found two pipes, the kind used to smoke crack," said Miller, adding that investigators are examining residue they believe was left from smoking cocaine.
Word that drugs may have been involved in the pastor's death dealt another blow to a grieving church and community already stunned by Booth's Christmas Eve slaying. Friends demanded to know how a pastor who spent his time helping recovering addicts could be using or dealing drugs.
"He's no dope dealer, I'll tell you that," said Larry Hodges, who works in a hardware store near the church and said he had known Booth for 25 years. "That kid who killed him was a junkie. Mr. Booth would have given him his last dollar."
Della Straszynski, 61, of Bel Air, Md., said yesterday that Booth was counseling Wood, trying to help Wood kick a drug problem. She said that she had spoken with Booth on the telephone before the slaying and that he told her he had just fed Wood a Christmas dinner.
"His biggest fault was that he was too caring about people," said Straszynski, a longtime member of Booth's congregation. "He had a gift about him with people. It was a gentleness, a Christ-like attitude that shone from him."
It was his desire to help others that his friends say got him in trouble last year in his home town of Bel Air.
Before leaving Bel Air in summer 1993, Booth had been charged with eight misdemeanor drug offenses that were dropped later. Bel Air Police Chief Leo Matrangola said yesterday that his officers had found traces of marijuana and cocaine along with pipes, scales and syringes in the basement of Booth's Bel Air residence.
But Matrangola said police dropped the charges because Booth said several young men he was helping recover from drug addictions had brought the paraphernalia into his house without his knowledge. Despite dropping the charges, police said they remained suspicious of Booth.
"We had informants who told us that he was selling drugs," Matrangola said. "We wanted to build the case against him. But he was evicted about a month after the arrest and moved away."
After leaving the Bel Air house where police found narcotics, Booth moved elsewhere in suburban Baltimore and eventually into the trailer behind the Essex church this fall.
Booth's neighbors in Essex said they saw no indication of drug use. They said they enjoyed living near Booth because he was friendly and willing to help with problems. For a time, though, he appeared ill and said he was suffering from pneumonia and other ailments, neighbors said.
Booth's mother, Marion Green, 75, of Bel Air, said her son spent his time trying to help young men who were addicted to drugs, not selling them dope. Since he was a youngster growing up in the Baltimore suburbs, Green said, her son's life had been dedicated to the Gospel. As a youth, he practiced preaching in his family's chicken coop.
"He would say, 'Mom, me can preach now,' " she said. "He'd go into the chicken coop and get quite an audience -- people from the neighborhood, they'd come listen to him.
"Now he's gone."
CAPTION: The Rev. Samuel Nathaniel Booth Jr. was found stabbed to death Saturday.