Erika Sifrit, who police say admitted that she and her husband killed a Fairfax City couple, was an honor student and star athlete who surprised her parents by marrying a man they had never met, her high school basketball coach said yesterday.
A bond hearing is scheduled Monday for Sifrit and her husband, Benjamin, both 24, who are charged with first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Martha M. Crutchley, 51, and Joshua E. Ford, 32, over the Memorial Day weekend.
Ocean City Police Department spokesman Jay Hancock said Erika Sifrit confessed during an interrogation Friday night. He said the confession and evidence found in the Sifrits' hotel room led police to believe that Crutchley and Ford were shot there late Sunday or early Monday and then taken to a trash bin in trash bags.
But Hancock said Erika Sifrit was not sure where the trash bin was, and the search for the bodies was to be expanded Monday to landfills in Worcester County and nearby Sussex County, Del.
In the Fairfax neighborhood where Crutchley, an insurance underwriting supervisor, and Ford, who worked for an investment firm, had lived together for about a year, their house appeared deserted today, with a light burning over the front door in midafternoon. Neighbors said they felt some relief that the mystery of their disappearance was solved, although it had ended in the worst possible way.
"At least people know what happened," said Doris Naeher, who lives a few houses down in the 4200 block of Berritt Street. "It will really be closure when they find the bodies."
Erika's former coach, Joseph Hurd, said she was an honor student at her high school in Hollidaysburg, Pa., and a standout basketball player with a fierce outside jump shot. She attended Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg on a partial athletic scholarship, he said, and the Associated Press said she graduated cum laude in 2001 with a degree in history.
"She was really kind of an ideal kid: really intelligent, extremely likable, easygoing," said Hurd, adding that his 6-year-old son sleeps with a stuffed tiger that was a gift from the former Erika Grace.
He said that her family was extremely supportive of their only child, and that her father, Mitchell Grace, a contractor, was deeply involved in her basketball career.
He was so involved, Hurd said, that he wound up being removed as junior high school basketball coach because other parents felt that Erika, who was a starter on the varsity team as a high school freshman, received preferential treatment. So the family moved from Martinsburg, Pa., to nearby Hollidaysburg, where Hurd coaches.
Hurd said Erika's father was disappointed when she decided to stop playing basketball at Mary Washington. "She was their only child, and they were her biggest supporters at everything she did," Hurd said.
They were surprised when she came home with her new husband. "The family was not really happy she got married and didn't tell them," Hurd said.
The coach said he met Benjamin Sifrit only once and recalled that he was a "a pretty strong guy" with tattoos. Benjamin Sifrit's father, Craig, who lives in Wisconsin, said yesterday that his son had been a Navy SEAL, but he would not comment on the murder case.
Despite their disappointment, Hurd said, Erika's parents helped the young couple open a business in nearby Altoona called Memory Laine in which the couple assembled scrapbooks for customers. The business was incorporated in March 2001, according to state corporate records. The parents were supposed to run the shop when Erika and Benjamin went to Ocean City "on vacation or to get away," Hurd said.
The phone at the store went unanswered today.
Erika and Benjamin Sifrit were arrested early Friday after allegedly trying to steal $5,500 worth of T-shirts and cigarettes from a Hooters restaurant merchandise store. Police found in their possession three handguns and a parking pass for the Rainbow high-rise condominium, where the Sifrits were staying.
When police searched their 11th-floor, three-bedroom penthouse, they found spent bullets, vacation photographs taken over the weekend by Crutchley and Ford and a small quantity of a controlled substance, according to Hancock.
The Sifrits, being held without bail in the Worcester County jail in Snow Hill, face two counts each of first-degree murder, first-degree assault, the violent use of a handgun and theft. Jail officials refused a request by The Post to speak with the Sifrits.
Police found Crutchley's car in the parking lot of the condominium where Crutchley and Ford were staying. The couple's luggage, credit cards and other personal items were found in their room. There were no obvious signs of struggle, and everything appeared untouched, Hancock said.
Weiss reported from Washington. Staff researchers Madonna Lebling and Margaret Smith contributed to this report.