A chart accompanying a Metro article yesterday said Corey Noel Beale of Clinton was charged with murder on Aug. 14, 1998, in the death of Michael Andrew Harley of Brandywine. Prosecutors dropped the charge against Beale last month. (Published 11/19/99)
Brandywine is a rustic slice of countryside in southeastern Prince George's County, where the woods are thick, houses are spaced far apart and the back roads are dead quiet at night--in short, an ideal place for killers from elsewhere to dump their victims' corpses.
Six dead bodies have been tossed into ditches and under trees along Brandywine's rural byways in the last three years, the latest a woman in her twenties who was shot between the eyes before she was discarded off a lonely stretch of Cherry Tree Crossing Road sometime Monday night.
Worried residents note that the pace has picked up recently. Five homicide victims have been discovered within a two-mile radius since August 1998.
Although Prince George's County police say the slayings do not appear to be related, folks in Brandywine are starting to wonder why their otherwise bucolic community has become a preferred place for carjackers and drug dealers to dispose of their dirty work.
"It's spooky," said Rosie Weinelt, 52, who has lived in Brandywine for 16 years. "We'd like to think of this area as being known more for the enjoyable scenery than as a dumping ground for murderers."
In all but one case, the killers and their victims have been from outside Brandywine, a fact that locals said is reassuring and disturbing at the same time. Although some said they are relieved that they don't need to fear their neighbors, they fretted that big-city crime is encroaching on their peaceful corner of the county.
"You used to think that if you lived in the country, you'd be safe," said Loretta Reece, who stopped to pick up her mail at the Brandywine post office yesterday. "I lived alone here for 14 years, and I've never been afraid. But when you hear about something like this, it makes you wonder if you should move."
But many people suspect that it is precisely Brandywine's rural charm that is attracting bloodthirsty criminals.
Unlike the city or the sprawling suburbs, where it's difficult to find a good place to hide a body without attracting attention, Brandywine is full of two-lane country roads that are deserted at night. Dark woods creep right up to the roadsides, and there's nary a streetlight to illuminate any illegal activity.
Moreover, busy U.S. 301 and Branch Avenue bisect the area, providing quick and convenient getaway routes for corpse dumpers.
"As far as we know, it's just a rural area that gets a lot of traffic from the main roads," said Sgt. Gary Cunningham, a spokesman for the Prince George's police department. "There just happens to be a lot of open space out there."
Police have made arrests in at least two of the six slayings.
In October 1998, four men from Temple Hills were charged with first-degree murder in the death of Brently Jayson Youmans, 31, of Waldorf. Police said the men stole Youmans's Ford Bronco during a carjacking in Aquasco and killed him before abandoning his car in Southeast Washington. Youmans's body was found on Sept. 17, 1998, in a ditch in the 18000 block of Horsehead Road.
One month earlier, a day-care worker and five children out for a walk discovered the badly decomposed body of a 19-year-old Brandywine man in the 13200 block of Old Indian Head Road. Police later arrested a 20-year-old Clinton man and charged him with murder, although they didn't give a motive for the crime.
Cunningham said he thought homicide detectives may have solved two other cases--the March 1997 slaying of a District man whose body was found in a ditch on Brandywine Road and the Jan. 6 deaths of two Clinton men who were shot in the head in a minivan on Accokeek Road--but he couldn't confirm whether police had made any arrests.
Police said yesterday that they have tentatively identified the woman whose body was found Tuesday morning along Cherry Tree Crossing Road. They said she was last seen in a 1991 Mercedes with Maryland license plates, but declined to give details or to release her name.
BODIES IN BRANDYWINE
Rural, bucolic Brandywine in eastern Prince George's County is becoming a preferred place for killers to hide their victims' corpses. Six bodies have been dumped along roadsides in the Brandywine area in the past three years.
1. March 14, 1997: A resident finds the body of Jerold Kevin Darlington, 34, of the District, lying in a ditch near the intersection of Gibbons Church Road and Brandywine Road. Police said he was shot in the head.
2. Aug. 11, 1998: A day care worker and five children out for a walk discover the badly decomposed body of Michael Andrew Harley, 19, of Brandywine, along the 13200 block of Old Indian Head Road. Three days later, police arrest Corey Noel Beale, 20, of Clinton, and charge him with murder.
3. Sept. 17, 1998: A passerby finds the body of Brently Jason Youmans, 31, of Waldorf in a ditch along the 18000 block of Horsehead Road. A month later, police charge four suspects with first-degree murder, saying they stole Youman's car during a carjacking in Aquasco.
4. Jan. 6, 1999: Patrol officers discover the bodies of Stephen Dwight Williams, 24, and Marlon Dion Burford, 22, both of Clinton, inside a Mazda van abandoned in the 7000 block of Accokeek Road. Both men were shot in the head. Police said "large amounts of drug-related evidence" were found in the van.
5. Nov. 16, 1999: Two county maintenance workers find the body of an unidentified woman in her mid 20s under some trees in the 12500 block of Cherry Tree Crossing Road. Police said the woman had been killed the night before and that she was shot once in the head.