Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger
United States of America

Petitioning for accountability through a grand jury hearing in the case of Bernadette Stevenson Caruso.

To: Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger

Subject: Justice for Bernadette Stevenson Caruso

We, the undersigned, have patiently awaited an arrest in the murder of Bernadette Stevenson Caruso, whose 1986 disappearance/death has now surpassed a quarter century.

On Saturday, September 27, 1986, Bernadette Stevenson Caruso walked out of her job at Shaws Jewelers in Eastpoint Mall and for all intents and purposes, seemingly dropped off the face of the earth.

At the time of Bernadette’s disappearance, she was twenty-three years old with a three year old daughter. Not only was she a loving and devoted mother, she was also the youngest of seven children in a very close knit family, as well as a survivor awaiting a divorce from a very volatile marriage. In the fall of 1986, Bernadette had asked the Baltimore County State’s Attorney to open a prior stet case of domestic violence charges against her estranged husband, a former police officer dismissed from the Baltimore County Police Department for brutality. It was not an easy time for Bernadette, but she was happy and positive about leaving a bad marriage and making a better life for herself and her daughter. One week from that fateful September day, Bernadette was set to testify in court regarding said prior domestic charges. Investigative files state co-workers recall her husband calling her on the job numerous times that day and Bernadette saying, “I am going to meet him to see what he wants." Bernadette was never seen or heard from again.

While we understand police investigations take time, we do not purport to understand how two and a half decades can go by with no real investigative efforts taken and no arrests in Bernadette’s case. Her husband battered her throughout their marriage, threatened her life in front of numerous witnesses and stood to lose everything as his marriage and career crumbled around him. How is it a person with such propensity for violence can walk free from these crimes for so long? Her husband’s measure of brutality was also noted on record with the Baltimore County police department in 1986 and his threats against Bernadette’s life were known to many. Yet, in September 2006 during the 20th anniversary of her disappearance, then Baltimore County spokesman Bill Toohey went on record stating, “There was an incident in his past and he “retired” from the police department.” Many family, friends and advocates of Bernadette’s case believe her case has been “shielded” by the Blue Line of Silent injustice within the BCPD. While none of us are privy to all the details in Bernadette’s investigation, many believe her abduction was not a "random" encounter. In addition, we are saddened (as well as angered) that the death of a bright, beautiful, twenty-three year old mother, daughter, sister and friend with everything to live for, could be suppressed under the carpet of injustice for so long.

Throughout the years, there have been many legislative protections put in place regarding this deadly behavior against women, but laws were not in place to protect Bernadette Caruso in 1986. In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) recognizing the scourge of domestic violence in this nation. In 2009, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s administration passed new legislation in the fight against domestic violence. After the May 2010 death of University of Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Love, Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger gave sweeping interviews and conferences on domestic violence warning signs, imploring friends to intercede on behalf of their battered loved ones. Domestic violence expert Susan Murphy-Milano summed up the issue best when she stated, "We have become numb to a national epidemic where those silenced continue to fill headstones at a death rate far greater than those who have fought and died for our freedom in war."

As of December 2012, there have been 378 no-body trials throughout 48 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands, with a conviction rate of 89%. Since 2010, Baltimore County has successfully prosecuted two no-body murder cases, with the convictions of Dennis Tetso in the death of his thirty-two year old wife Tracey Gardner of Rosedale, MD and Jason Gross, in the death of fifteen year old Rochelle Battle from Essex, MD. Like so many others in absence of the victim’s bodies, both of these cases were based largely on circumstantial evidence, tying together compellingly proven cases of guilt with the two defendants. We believe Bernadette Caruso’s case also warrants such dedicated efforts. For well over twenty-six years, Bernadette’s family has patiently stood by awaiting law enforcement to do the right thing in bringing her killer to justice. For twenty-six + years, this murderer has been free to live his life while Bernadette has now been missing longer than she was alive on this earth. This travesty of inaction has taken an immeasurable toll on her family, and they have all but lost faith in our criminal justice system.

We are deeply concerned about the extremely slow developments of this investigation and are afraid that justice may never be carried out in Bernadette’s case. Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger campaigned on a slogan of, “Crusader of Justice” and promised to, "Fight Crime First." He led Baltimore County to believe he cared about putting victims before criminals and getting killers off our streets. In addition, his online biography states he has a reputation as, “an aggressive and tireless advocate for victims of crime.” That would include the murder of a devoted, young mother whose life was tragically cut short well over two decades ago. Bernadette’s family cannot have closure in her death without an arrest and an attempt at seeking justice.

We are now calling on Attorney Shellenberger to do the right thing on behalf of Bernadette and the Stevenson family. Your Baltimore constituents (as well as the nation at large) urgently appeal for your attention in this matter and ask for delivery of justice through a grand jury hearing on Bernadette’s case. Please let this country know that in a county under your leadership, violence and murder of young women WILL NOT BE TOLERATED, under any circumstances.

Bernadette Stevenson Caruso was a real person, not just a statistic of violent crime. When voices become silenced by their killers, victims need the public to rise up and speak for them. WE ARE SPEAKING OUT AND WE DEMAND TO BE HEARD.

We are watching - and waiting - for Baltimore County to do the right thing and bring Bernadette’s killer to justice.

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