The gawkers arrived at the red-brick Colonial on Fall Moon Ride in Clarksville this month looking for the Halloween House.
Just as they do every October, visitors from Virginia to Pennsylvania traveled to Howard County to witness the elaborately macabre tableau the Beadel family has created each Halloween for nearly a decade on its front lawn: 40 meticulously designed skeletons dressed as football players, baby-bottle sucking infants and even a postal worker. (Her name? Anne Thrax, of course.)
But this year it was all gone. The only displays in the yard were three black-and-orange signs.
"Dear Riverhill Neighbors," the signs read. "We deeply regret that after 5 years of escalating vandalism and theft of our seasonal decorations, we are unable to continue the Halloween skeleton displays."
The Beadel family's decision to abandon its annual ghoulish designs has distressed residents throughout the affluent community of River Hill and caused many to wonder whether teenage hooliganism has gotten out of control. But nowhere has the loss been felt more deeply than among the Beadels themselves.
"It's like a huge void in my life," said Cathie Beadel, 47, an energy company executive. "It's like one of your kids leaving home. I can't even hang around the front of the house anymore or else I see the empty lawn and get depressed."
The Beadels said the incessant vandalism was just too much. Teenagers would come between midnight and 4 a.m. to steal their skeletons. Sometimes they would just destroy the displays with baseball bats.
It got so bad that Jim Beadel, 47, a corporate security manager, installed motion sensors and began sleeping in his vehicle to catch the miscreants. But most of the vandals escaped into the woods. He couldn't stop the destruction.
"It makes me feel so angry," he said. "I thought I moved into a community where people don't consider the destruction of other people's property commonplace and okay. But these kids are just out of control, and the parents are completely indifferent."
Neighbors and visitors have been disappointed by the Beadels' decision. Martin Ehrlich, who lives across the street, said some people have even expressed anger that the family has abandoned what has become an annual destination for many in Howard.
"Personally, it will be sad for me," Ehrlich said. "But as a friend of the Beadles I'm glad they're not doing it. It's too much stress for them."
But the family's decision to give up their skeletons also has highlighted how much their efforts mean to the community.
One evening last week, Cathie Beadel arrived home from work and found a bright orange pumpkin on her doorstep with a card that said: "May this little pumpkin let you know the neighborhood cares!"
"BOO hoo! We miss YOU decorating for Halloween," read the card from the family of Sandra Kleinberger, neighbors whom the Beadels say they have never met. "We have always enjoyed your decorations and are sorry theft and vandalism has lead to your empty lawn this season."
Cathie Beadel said the note was so moving she almost wanted to cry. Such sentiments caused the family several days ago to briefly consider putting up the decorations.
"Deep inside of me I just want to stay home from work and put all the decorations up," she said. "But we can't. If we did, I know Jim would be back sleeping in his truck and I'd be worried."
Sherry Llewellyn, a spokeswoman for the Howard County police, said the Beadels' experiences do not represent a broader uptick in crime in the county. She said reports of vandalism in Howard dropped from 3,494 in 2002 to 3,142 last year.
"Halloween is a time that lends itself to mischievousness," she said. "When you put that stuff out, it comes with some risk."
The biggest concern for the Beadels now is the reaction they will get when trick-or-treaters show up tonight expecting the usual display. They said vans of children have pulled up in past years from neighboring counties and even Virginia or the District to see their decorations.
How will people respond?
"I believe there are going to be a lot of unhappy and very disappointed kids and parents," Cathy Beadel said. "I imagine some people will be very angry."
The Beadels said they will consider putting up the decorations next year. But their main focus now is getting through a holiday that just doesn't feel right without their traditional display.
"It's not the same. It's not Halloween," Cathy Beadel said. "But we're doing what we have to do survive."