Jane McQuain and her 11-year-old son, William, left their Germantown apartment Oct. 1, heading out, as usual, for Saturday sports and other activities in her new Honda CR-V.
The car eventually returned to the apartment building’s parking lot, but neither McQuain nor her son — an inseparable pair — was seen again.
In the days that followed, a tall, slender man in a hat began walking to and from Apartment 13100, police and neighbors said. He spoke softly, often had a cellphone to his ear and once was seen dragging a large television box to McQuain’s Honda, neighbors said. He told one resident that he was returning the TV to the store, then put the box in the back of the SUV and drove off. That was on Oct. 5.
It wasn’t until Wednesday, exactly a week later, that Montgomery County authorities found McQuain’s body in her bedroom. She had suffered some type of undisclosed physical trauma. There still is no sign of William, who by now has missed eight days of his sixth-grade classes.
Police found McQuain’s Honda near Charlotte on Thursday morning and have charged McQuain’s estranged husband — the man allegedly seen carrying things to and from her apartment — in her killing, authorities said. The husband, Curtis Maurice Lopez, 45, was convicted in 1987 in a stabbing and served more than a decade in Pennsylvania prisons. He is not William’s father, authorities said.
Lopez was taken into custody in North Carolina about 9:30 a.m. Thursday, about an hour after the Honda was found, said Capt. Paul Starks, a Montgomery County police spokesman.
Police said there is nothing to indicate that William was harmed, but detectives are looking for the boy and have no sense of where he might be.
“We have no physical evidence of this kid,” said Montgomery Police Chief J. Thomas Manger. “What gives us the most concern is that he’s been missing now for 11 or 12 days.”
Friends said McQuain’s death is even more unfortunate because she worked so hard to turn her life around and to protect her son from her problems. A recovering alcoholic who at one point lived in homeless shelters, McQuain, 51, found sobriety seven years ago and dedicated herself to William.
“I have never seen someone do a turnaround in her life like she did,” said Ronald McCombs, who had a long relationship with McQuain and helped raise William in his early years. McCombs said William never met his father, who knew McQuain only briefly. “She always said that she had nothing else to live for but her son. She loved little Will.”
Lopez was part of the former life that McQuain tried so hard to forget, friends said. In 1985, Lopez was arrested and accused of stabbing a man more than a dozen times and leaving him on a Pennsylvania interstate to die. McQuain testified on his behalf at the trial, after which Lopez was convicted and sentenced.
McCombs said McQuain never divorced Lopez because he was incarcerated. Lopez constantly tried to be a part of her life after his release years ago. But McQuain rebuffed him, McCombs said, and his entreaties for money scared her.
Two weeks ago, McQuain and McCombs spoke by phone when she and William were on a short vacation in Ocean City. McCombs said Lopez was asking McQuain for money and wouldn’t leave her alone.
“He wanted to get back together with her, and she knew it wouldn’t be good news for William,” McCombs said Thursday. “She was afraid of Curtis, but I don’t think she ever thought it would end up like this.”
McCombs described McQuain as “very upbeat” and someone who often did not want to talk long on the phone because she wanted to help William with his homework or shuttle him to baseball or football practice.
“I wish more people could be like Jane,” McCombs said. “She had a lot of problems in her life, but she always turned herself around and recognized it.”
Derek Smith, William’s Little League coach from a year and a half ago, selected William for an all-star team and had him pitching, playing shortstop and playing third base. He said William was eager to learn.
“He just seemed like a great kid,” Smith said. “William was very easy to work with.”
Detectives have interviewed Lopez, but he has not said whether he knows where William is, according to two sources with knowledge of the case and who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
McQuain’s parents died years ago, and she has only one sibling, a brother, who lives on the West Coast. Contacted on Thursday, the brother said he was going through the grieving process and was not ready to comment. He said his family is praying that William is unharmed.
What happened to William remains unclear. It is also unclear how McQuain could have been dead in her apartment for more than a week before authorities were notified and how William’s absence from school did not lead to a missing-person report.
Manger said police will talk to school officials about how William’s absences were reported. Manger said it is possible Lopez called to say William would be with him.
Dana Tofig, a school system spokesman, said, “We are looking into the timeline in this matter and sharing all relevant information with the authorities.”
He said William’s school has a policy about children with unexcused absences. A parent or parents are called for four days. If no one is reached, the case is given to guidance counselors, who start calling emergency numbers.
Tofig declined to discuss William’s case, saying confidentiality laws prohibited him from doing so. Speaking generally, Tofig said, if school officials know of trouble involving a student, they contact authorities. But with 147,000 students, he said, it is not feasible to contact police simply because of unexcused absences.
A Germantown neighbor said that on Oct. 4, a Tuesday, one of McQuain’s friends told her that William’s school had called to ask about his absences, which at that point were for Monday and Tuesday. She said that the friend had been calling McQuain’s cellphone but that the calls were going directly to voice mail. Knocks on the apartment door yielded nothing.
The neighbor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she didn’t want to affect the investigation, said that the next day she saw the man who fit Lopez’s description dragging a large television box down the stairs from the second-story apartment and loading it into the back of the Honda.
According to the neighbor, the man said that he was going to return the television to the store and that he was going home to New Jersey for a few days. He said he would return to the Germantown apartment, but he didn’t.
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Staff researchers Magda Jean-Louis and Julie Tate contributed to this report.