Inmate Pleads Guilty in Years-Old
Man Serving Life
Term Since '94 in One Slaying Is Linked by DNA to 3
By Raymond McCaffrey -
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
"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
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
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."
DNA technology, cold-case work
point to suspect
July 13, 2004
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
Year after year, as DNA technology improved, lab
workers analyzed tiny pieces of the cigarette -- pieces not much big ger
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 Tuesday to announce the charges. "DNA
is a timeless stamp that could always be used as evidence."
Tuesday, 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 Tuesday to
represent Watson, declined to comment Tuesday 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
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 importantly, 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
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
When forensic DNA technology first became available
in the mid-1980s, Anne Arundel police were among the first to use it,
The testing then was good, but now it's great, he
said. DNA has become an even more useful crime-solving tool since the ad
vent 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 Tuesday'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...Cold-case work.
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
A man who came to the window at Watson's parents'
house Tuesday 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,
About a year and a half after Haenel's murder, Cobb
-- an other 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 Tuesday 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.