Longform

Death Sentences

Page 5 of 9

You made it! Your first job was a piece of cake! Taking all that money for the job was almost like robbery. Yet here you are, finally a real hit man with real hard cash in your pockets and that first notch on your pistol.

--Excerpt from Hit Man

The bodies of Millie Horn, her son, Trevor, and Janice Saunders were discovered early on the morning of March 3, 1993, by Millie's sister, Vivian Rice.

Millie's body was blocking the front door. She lay on the floor in front of the stairs, her hair curlers scattered around her fallen body. It appeared to police that she'd been killed after being roused from sleep. She'd been shot in the eyes.

Investigators found Trevor's night nurse, the 38-year-old Saunders, on the floor in Trevor's bedroom. Detectives theorize that Saunders was shot as she sat knitting and rocking in the chair beside the boy's bed. Her knitting needles were still in her hand. She, too, had been shot in the eye. (Saunders, the mother of a five-year-old son, had not been scheduled to work that night; she was filling in for another nurse who was unable to work the shift.)

Officers found Trevor in his bed, surrounded by stuffed animals. The cause of death was not immediately apparent, but the high, piercing whine of his respirator alarm filled the house, accompanied by the loud hum of his dehumidifier. Police thought at first that Trevor had died when his respirator was disconnected. They soon learned that that was not the case.

"You'd think that disconnecting him from the machine would kill him, [but] it didn't," says detective Craig Wittenberg of the Montgomery County Police Department. "No doubt who did it had inside information. The [killer] had to know that merely disconnecting it was not going to kill him. He actually had to smother the child."

Investigators believe that Saunders was killed first, then the boy. Something--police think it may have been the sound of the respirator's alarm--alerted Millie to a problem, and she was shot as she went downstairs to investigate. She probably never heard the gunshots that killed Trevor's nurse; detectives believe the killer used a silencer. "Although we don't know that he used one for sure," says Maryland deputy state's attorney Robert Dean, "we think he did, because we found large pieces, stray pieces of bullets, and the wound patterns were consistent with a silencer."

The remainder of the scene was a puzzle. The killer "made a futile attempt at some ransacking," Wittenberg says, but police never took seriously the prospect that the home had been burglarized. "[Millie Horn] had furs, jewelry, TVs, VCRs, common things that would be stolen, but nothing was missing," says Wittenberg. "Things were just dumped over and tossed. For one thing, the family room had [sofa] cushions thrown on the floor. What would a burglar do that for? Was he looking for popcorn seeds, maybe pennies between the cushions? Some of it was almost to the point of being ridiculous."

The only things that had been taken were some of Millie Horn's credit cards and the family van. Wittenberg says he believes that the killer took the vehicle "merely to get away and drive back close to where he'd parked his rental vehicle." The credit cards were found later that same day, scattered along the roadside leading away from the Horn home.

Dean says the search also turned up a file with flecks of gunpowder on it. Investigators think it was used to alter the barrel of a gun.

Two weeks after the murders, a canine officer and his dog discovered the trigger to an AR-7 rifle not far from where Millie Horn's credit cards had been found. The serial numbers had been completely drilled through and were impossible to read.

"At that time," Wittenberg says, "the trigger did not mean that much to us." But it would become a crucial piece of evidence months later, after detectives bought a copy of Hit Man.

Wittenberg and his partner James Leasure (now retired) suspected soon after they'd been assigned to the case that Lawrence Horn was somehow involved. Horn, however, had an ironclad alibi. When the murders were being carried out, Horn was at his home in California. And he had a videotape to prove it: While taping pictures of himself and his girlfriend at their apartment that night, Horn had allowed the camera to linger on the television set, which just happened to show the date and time of the broadcast.

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Karen Bowers