Victims: Boontem Anderson, 34, Mary Elaine Shereika, 37, Lisa Kathleen Haenel, 14, and Debra Cobb, 37
Age at time of murders: 17-24
Crime dates: 1986-1994
Crime locations: Gambrills, Glen Burnie, and Forestville
Crimes: Home invasion, kidnapping, rape, and murder
Murder method: Stabbing and strangling
Sentence: Five life sentences, three without parole
Between 1986 and 1994, Watson murdered four females, two of whom he also raped. He was apprehended for the 1994 murder of 37-year-old Debra Cobb, a crime for which he was sentenced to life without parole. Between 2003 and 2004, Watson was linked through DNA evidence to the murders of Boontem Anderson, 34, Mary Elaine Shereika, 37, and Lisa Kathleen Haenel, 14. Watson admitted to these crimes and was given additional life sentences.
Timeline of the crimes
October 6, 1986. Watson raped, stabbed, strangled, and murdered his friend’s mother Boontem Anderson in her Gambrills home. After raping and killing the mother of two, Watson left her naked and bound body in her bathtub for her fiancé’s 11-year-old son to find.
May 23, 1988. Watson attacked Mary Shereika as she jogged near her Gambrills home. He dragged her into a rye field and raped, beat, stabbed, strangled, and murdered her. Her partly naked body was later found by a farmer plowing his rye field.
January 15, 1993. Watson attacked Lisa Haenel in the Glen Burnie area as the 14-year-old went to school. He stabbed and strangled her to death and left her naked body in a ravine.
June 13, 1994. Watson stabbed Debra Cobb to death at an office in Forestville.
Andrea F. Siegel
The Baltimore Sun
Jennifer Shereika Scott said she wanted to confront the man who had killed her mother nearly 20 years ago because she wanted answers to questions she had carried for more than half her life.
She got her chance Monday, in an extraordinary meeting arranged by prosecutors. In exchange for pleading guilty, which he did yesterday, and meeting with the families of the victims, serial killer Alexander Wayne Watson Jr. escaped a possible death sentence and will instead spend the rest of his life behind bars for three brutal killings between 1986 and 1993.
Meeting amid tight security in the room where Anne Arundel County grand juries meet in an Annapolis courthouse, Watson, shackled and seated, spent nearly six hours meeting first with each of the three families individually, and then with all of the relatives as group.
Scott, 36, said Watson was “respectful.” But he never apologized, and never dropped eye contact with her as he answered questions about killing Elaine Shereika in 1988.
“He said he had been getting high in the park that morning, and she just happened to be the first person who went by,” Scott recalled yesterday.
Watson, she said, also explained that “he had gotten away with it once, and he wanted to see if he could get away with it again.”
He was finally caught in 1994, for the murder of the woman he says was his fourth and final victim. But for the DNA matches in 2003 and 2004, he might have gotten away with the previous three killings.
Yesterday, under a plea agreement ratified in a courtroom enveloped in melancholy, Watson, 37, admitted to the rape and murder of two women and the murder of a teenage girl in exchange for five life sentences, two without parole. Three of the life sentences will be served consecutively, and two concurrently.
“I think you are an evil man. I think you are a dangerous man,” Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Joseph P. Manck told Watson before handing down the sentence.
First, he will serve time for the Oct. 6, 1986, rape and murder of his friend’s mother, Boon Tem Anderson, 34, in her Gambrills home; then for the May 23, 1988, rape and murder of Shereika, 37, who lived around the corner and was running past him; and then for the Jan. 15, 1993, murder of Lisa Kathleen Haenel, which occurred as the 14-year-old who lived in the same Glen Burnie apartment complex headed down a path to Old Mill High School.
In a statement Scott read in court, her brother Dan Shereika Jr. wrote that the meeting showed Watson “has no remorse for what he has done” but agreed to the meetings and plea to avoid a death penalty in Elaine Shereika’s killing.
Kimberly Kilgore, Anderson’s daughter, wrote that she left the meeting with Watson “feeling more frustrated and angrier than before. I felt I was being lied to with every question that I asked.”
Watson said nothing in the Annapolis courtroom yesterday beyond agreeing to the plea, but he appeared to listen and not react to damning words said about him by devastated parents, siblings and children in court – similar to the demeanor Scott described in Monday’s meeting. No one spoke in his behalf, and he appeared not to have family present.
Though he told her and her brother, Dan, that he had not stalked their mother on her 5:30 a.m. runs through the Four Seasons neighborhood, Watson apparently was prepared with a knife to kill their mother.
“He said at that time he was carrying knives in his car,” she in an interview.
Scott asked why, when he was charged in Prince George’s County in 1994, he didn’t try to use the earlier homicides as bargaining chips. “He could have ended this for us long ago. He says it never even dawned on him,” she recounted.
“I am not certain that Mr. Watson is evil. I think Mr. Watson is cold,” she said. “He doesn’t scare me.”
Pointing to the gap between the 1988 and 1993 murders and saying he had a chance to help others, they asked if there were other victims. He told them “there is nobody else out there,” Scott said, and State’s Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee confirmed it.
In court for the 1994 murder of Debra Cobb in Forestville, Watson noted a drug problem and asked a Prince George’s County judge for a “second chance” – something that has grated on families because it implied the murder of the office manager in the plaza where he worked at the time was his first crime.
In statements read in court, relatives told Manck of their anguish, and prosecutors summed up cases in chilling detail. Manck had begun the hearing by telling them he sat where they did 12 ago, after the murder of his mother.
Dan Shereika Jr., then 13, rode his bike to scour the neighborhood looking for his mother when she didn’t return home from her early run to send him off to school.
“Mother’s Day is the worst – I spend time at the cemetery – not with my mother – but with my only child,” Lisa Haenel’s mother, Meg Enck, said in a statement.
Police said the cases show the value of DNA in cold cases – especially because technology failed to alert them to a fingerprint of Watson’s left on a hairdryer in Anderson’s bathroom. Anderson’s partially nude body was discovered in the bathtub by her fiance’s son when he came home from school.
Watson gave an older son in the family a ride home later that afternoon, taking him to what Assistant State’s Attorney Michael O. Bergeson referred to as a “freshly developing murder investigation.”
The victim was strangled and stabbed. DNA taken from the rape initially matched no one.
Shereika’s partly naked body had been found by a farmer plowing his rye field. She, too, was raped, strangled and stabbed. DNA swabbed from the rape matched no one.
Haenel’s mother’s boyfriend, now husband, found Lisa’s body, naked except for a sock. She was stabbed and strangled. Seventeen feet from her body was a cigarette butt with DNA from blood of Lisa’s type on the burn end, and unknown DNA from saliva on the lip end.
The cases went cold. In 2002 – six years after Watson was convicted in Cobb’s murder – DNA showed a match between the DNA in the latter two cases, police said. In late 2003 and early 2004, with the state DNA databank growing, the three cases were linked through DNA to Watson, who was in prison. On July 12, 2004, Watson was charged.
Yesterday, three of the investigators on those homicides sat silently in court, saying the outcome was worth every one of the thousands of hours worked on them.
At the request of the families, prosecutors ended the pursuit of the death penalty for the rape and murder of Shereika. Watson was 17 when he raped and killed Anderson, too young for a death penalty, and the Lisa Haenel murder did not qualify for it.
“I don’t know if I could have lived with myself if he didn’t take responsibility for Lisa’s murder,” Scott said in a press briefing after the plea. She has two daughters. But, Scott, said, the delays in taking a death penalty case to trial and in carrying out an execution were an enormous factor.
“If we had decided to pursue the death penalty, how old would I be, when and if Mr. Watson was executed? 46? 56? Older?” she said.
She urged officials to streamline death penalty cases, provide more funding to expand the DNA databank and test more people, saying earlier moves to create the database might have hastened the identification of Watson as a serial killer.
Gov. Martin O’Malley said last month that the Maryland State Police have reduced the backlog of DNA samples from convicted felons, and he said he would probably include in his legislative agenda for next year a proposal to require samples from anyone who is arrested, a suggestion that has alarmed civil libertarians.
The Maryland Court of Appeals temporarily halted executions in December when it ruled that the state’s lethal injection procedure was improperly created. The state has not yet drawn up new procedures.
THE BALTIMORE SUN
The unsmoked Newport cigarette was just a few feet from the 14-year-old Glen Burnie girl’s body. A crime scene technician picked it up, bagged it and marked it as evidence.
On it was Lisa Haenel’s blood — and someone else’s saliva.
That was January 1993. Year after year, as DNA technology improved, lab workers analyzed tiny pieces of the cigarette — pieces not much bigger than a speck of dirt — to try to create the best DNA profile possible. Finally, last fall, they were able to match it to DNA from a convicted murderer, Anne Arundel County police said.
DNA also connected the suspect in Haenel’s case to two mothers who had been killed in Gambrills in the late 1980s, Boontem Andersen and Mary Elaine Shereika, according to police. They said this paved the way for them to charge Alexander Wayne Watson Jr. this week with three counts of first-degree murder.
“Witnesses tend to forget,” State’s Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said at a news conference yesterday to announce the charges. “DNA is a timeless stamp that could always be used as evidence.”
Yesterday, on a day when Watson made his first court appearance in the county, detectives and crime scene technicians told the story of how that cigarette and other minute clues helped them tie together the cases, exposing what police believe is a serial killer who lived just doors from his victims and began preying upon women when he was a teen-ager.
Now 34, Watson, a stocky man with a shaved head and close-cropped beard and mustache, responded to questions with only “yes” and “no” during a brief bail-review hearing in Annapolis. The proceeding was largely a formality because he was sentenced in 1994 to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of Debra Cobb, 37, an office manager in Prince George’s County.
Weathersbee said his office has not decided whether to seek the death penalty.
John Gunning, a public defender appointed yesterday to represent Watson, declined to comment last night, saying he was just beginning to learn about the case.
For Anne Arundel detectives, the investigation began in the Four Seasons neighborhood of Gambrills on Oct. 8, 1986, the date of Andersen’s killing. Andersen, 34, was sexually assaulted, stabbed and strangled, and left bound and nude in her bathtub, where her fiance’s 11-year-old son found her.
One of the crime scene technicians to collect evidence from Andersen’s home on Snow Hill Lane was Jeff Cover. He had joined the Anne Arundel County crime lab a year earlier, after a stint in Baltimore.
Cover said the brutal way in which Andersen was killed and that she was found in a bathtub stuck in his mind. “You always walk away with some images burned in your gray matter,” he said.
Cover was present during Andersen’s autopsy. Several swabs of someone’s body fluid were taken from her corpse and tested. More important, they were preserved for future testing.
On May 23, 1988, Shereika, 37, had been out for an early-morning jog near her home in Four Seasons when a man police believe was familiar with her route grabbed her and dragged her into a rye field. There, he sexually assaulted, beat, stabbed and strangled her.
Again, Cover was at the autopsy and helped collect fluids from her body. Some swabs were tested; others were saved.
At the site of freshman Lisa Haenel’s murder on Jan. 15, 1993, in a ravine off a path she walked each morning to Old Mill High School, crime scene technicians found that the teen-ager had not been sexually assaulted, so they did not take the same kind of DNA samples from her body.
But a few feet from her nude body lay a Newport cigarette, unlit, and with what appeared to be blood on it. That blood turned out to be Haenel’s, police said, and saliva from the filter end was used to create a DNA profile, possibly of her killer.
Today, the place where Haenel’s body was found is marked with a white wooden cross bearing her name and ladybug decorations.
When forensic DNA technology first became available in the mid-1980s, Anne Arundel police were among the first to use it, Cover said.
The testing then was good, but now it’s great, he said. DNA has become an even more useful crime-solving tool since the advent of the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, in the late 1990s. The federal database contains more than 1 million genetic profiles of convicted felons. Maryland enters information for most of its violent felons, Cover said.
At yesterday’s news conference, Police Chief P. Thomas Shanahan called DNA the “greatest thing that’s happened in police work since fingerprints.”
Shanahan praised the evidence technicians for having “enough foresight and professionalism” to collect and save evidence for so many years.
It was the DNA that police said provided the conclusive link to Watson, but six years of detective work by the cold-case unit filled in other blanks, said Sgt. David Waltemeyer, who supervises homicide detectives.
He was the county’s first cold-case investigator when the unit was formed in 1998 and said that the Andersen, Shereika and Haenel killings were among the first he reinvestigated. The unit had closed four homicides before this week and is investigating about 25 open ones that date to 1970.
After the DNA samples submitted to CODIS from the Shereika and Haenel cases matched Watson’s DNA in October, Waltemeyer said, cold-case investigators re-examined thousands of pages of paperwork — interviews, notes from the original detectives — in all three cases through the lens of Watson being a suspect.
Although DNA from Andersen’s case didn’t conclusively match Watson’s until this year, Waltemeyer said, detectives considered him a suspect because he lived in her neighborhood at the time of her killing. They would also learn that Watson knew her fiance’s family.
It became clear, police said, that Watson’s crimes were motivated by opportunity. His parents had bought a house in November 1985 in the Four Seasons neighborhood where Andersen and Shereika lived.
A man who came to the window at Watson’s parents’ house yesterday afternoon said, “The family has no comment,” and refused to open the door.
By the early 1990s, Watson became a father, married and moved to an apartment in Glen Burnie, near Old Mill High School. Records show that Haenel’s family lived in that same apartment complex, called Southgate.
About a year and a half after Haenel’s murder, Cobb — another mother of two — was stabbed to death at an office in Forestville. Watson, who worked at an office in the same plaza as Cobb, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced in December 1994 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He is behind bars at the Maryland House of Correction Annex in Jessup.
In a letter to a judge before his sentencing, Watson blamed Cobb’s killing on his addiction to crack cocaine. In a subsequent letter, dated Jan. 27, 1995, and asking the judge to lessen his sentence, Watson wrote that what he had done was “horribly wrong.”
“If given a second chance some day I am sure I can prove to the court, and society that I am not a threat to anybody,” he wrote.
At the bail review hearing yesterday for the three new murder charges, an Anne Arundel prosecutor asked for Watson to be held without bond — even though he’s in prison for the 1994 murder — to show “an abundance of caution.”
The judge agreed. Watching from the back of the courtroom were a pair of cold-case detectives.
By Raymond McCaffrey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 17, 2007
A 36-year-old man serving a life sentence for murder pleaded guilty in Anne Arundel County yesterday to three brutal slayings that had been unsolved for many years before DNA evidence linked him to the crimes.
Alexander W. Watson Jr., imprisoned since 1994 for stabbing a woman in Prince George’s County, admitted in Circuit Court in Annapolis that he killed Boontem Anderson, 34, who was stabbed, strangled and sexually assaulted in her Gambrills home in 1986; Elaine Shereika, 37, who was raped, stabbed, strangled and sexually assaulted while jogging near her Gambrills home in 1988; and Lisa Haenel, 14, who was stabbed and strangled on the way to school in the Glen Burnie area in 1993.
Under the plea bargain, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty. Speaking for the victims’ families, Jennifer Scott, Shereika’s daughter, said the guilty pleas do not represent “a great victory” or warrant “a celebration.”
“We have not gotten a violent offender off of the streets of this county,” Scott said. “All that has been done today is that three women’s files can finally be closed, their boxes put away for good, after far too many years.”
Prosecutors said they struck the deal at the urging of the victims’ families. Scott said the decision to support the agreement was made after “a great deal of discussion, thought, prayer, soul searching and tears.”
Watson was a minor when he killed Anderson, and there was no evidence that Haenel was sexually assaulted, so the death penalty was possible only in the slaying of Shereika. Faced with a potentially long capital case, and uncertain prospects for a conviction in the Haenel case, the victims’ families endorsed the plea bargain.
Part of the deal was an arrangement that prosecutors said was unprecedented in Anne Arundel: Before the sentencing, the families were allowed to meet one on one with Watson. In a letter to the court, Shereika’s son wrote that the meeting showed Watson had no remorse. “He looked at us with blank eyes and gave pat answers to our questions,” Daniel D. Shereika Jr. wrote. “He stated with no feeling that he was getting high in the park when my mother ran by and thought, ‘I got away with it before, so figured I could get away with it again.’ “
Watson declined to address the court. He sat emotionless, surrounded by a wall of sheriff’s deputies, as a prosecutor detailed his crimes:
Anderson, a mother of two, had stayed home sick from her job at Fort Meade on Oct. 8, 1986. Her 11-year-old son, returning from school, found her facedown in a bathtub.
Elaine Shereika disappeared while running before work about 5:20 a.m. on May 23, 1988. A farmer found her partially clothed body in a puddle of blood in his field.
Haenel, a ninth-grader at Old Mill High School, left her Glen Burnie home Jan. 15, 1993. Her mother’s boyfriend found her nude body the next morning in a ravine near the path she used to take to school.
Watson was charged with the slayings in 2004, not long after a match was obtained from DNA samples that Anne Arundel police had sent to a database. Watson’s DNA was found on the bodies of Anderson and Shereika, a bloody sock near Shereika’s body and a cigarette found near Haenel. Investigators determined that Watson was living in the same neighborhoods as his victims at the time of their deaths and had worked with Anderson’s son at a fast-food restaurant.
Judge Joseph P. Manck told the families that he had been in their position once — a reference to the slaying of his mother years ago. He said that with the resolution of the case, “your lives will change” and “you will have what is commonly referred to as closure.”
“You will not have the thoughts of the evil that happened to your loved ones,” Manck said.
Later, however, Jennifer Scott said she doubted that was possible. “I don’t believe in closure,” she said. “This is just another chapter in the book. We just move on.”