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When a monster strikes, there's no comfort for grieving parents

March 21, 2004 1:09 am

MARCH IS A difficult month for Sue and Mark Baker. It is the month their daughter, Amy, was born, and the month she was taken from them.

This March would have been her 33rd birthday. It also marks the 15th anniversary of her death at the hands of an opportunistic killer who came upon Amy and her disabled car along Interstate 95, just south of the notorious Mixing Bowl.

"You deal with it 15 years later almost as you did 15 hours later," her father said last Monday on the eve of her birthday. "The grief isn't as bad, but it's still right there on your mind."

Sue Baker thinks that finding Amy's killer might not mean a whole lot at this point--aside from learning whether he is still alive or has his own family.

"People talk about closure, but there is no closure. An arrest or conviction might mean that we've done something for Amy," she said, "but it really wouldn't make much of a difference for us."

I first visited with Mark and Sue Baker eight years ago after I mentioned Amy's name in a column about some of the region's unsolved murders. A few days later, Sue Baker sent along a note of thanks for mentioning her daughter's name.

Then I decided to learn more about Amy's case for a column two weeks later that would focus on her slaying. Fairfax police say that piece spurred someone to call Crime Solvers--they believe from the Fredericksburg area--about the case. The caller was assigned identification number 6125, but has never called back.

Amy's case began on March 29, 1989. After visiting her aunt in Falls Church for a few days, the free-spirited teenager headed south toward her family's home in Hartwood. Near what was then the Newington/Fort Belvoir exit, her light blue 1970 Volkswagen Beetle ran out of gas.

When Amy had not arrived home by the next morning, Sue Baker feared something terrible had happened. She soon learned that police had towed Amy's car after discovering it abandoned on the shoulder of the highway.

At the impound lot in Fairfax, Sue Baker found Amy's purse, billfold, and backpack inside the car, but no keys. They wonder about the keys. "These guys do take souvenirs," her father notes. "Or maybe they're still up there in the woods someplace."

Of course they also wondered where Amy could possibly be.

Sue Baker and her sister-in-law got busy right away making posters to distribute in the nearby Backlick Road area.

Then they arranged to meet a Fairfax police officer at the spot where Amy's car was found. They waited for a while, aware that police weren't convinced a crime had taken place. Impatient, they set out to search the nearby woods.

Less than a half-hour later, Sue Baker came upon her daughter's body, partially covered with leaves. A subsequent autopsy determined that Amy had been sexually assaulted and strangled.

None of the leads that turned up at the time panned out. Melvin Irving Shifflett, one of the region's known killers now serving time on rape and murder charges, was cleared after a comparison with DNA evidence taken from Amy's body.

Mark Baker sees some hope that a cold hit will eventually be made in the nation's expanding DNA database. Otherwise, the only hope of finding the killer may depend on an acquaintance coming forward.

Sue Baker, who has worked in The Free Lance-Star's circulation department for the past six years, was watching the newsroom television along with us as events unfolded two years ago linking Richard Evonitz to the slayings of Sofia Silva and Kristen and Katie Lisk of Spotsylvania County in 1996 and '97.

The Bakers said Fairfax police called to let them know they would look for any connection between Amy and Evonitz. But authorities soon learned that Evonitz was deployed overseas in the Navy in March 1989. And Evonitz, who committed suicide on June 27, 2002, as officers closed in, was more of a stalker and planner. Amy's killer was clearly an opportunist.

Nevertheless, Sue Baker called the resolution of the Lisk-Silva case "a victory for us," referring to parents who have lost children to violent crime.

Over time, the Bakers have grown tired of looking for someone to blame.

"I was mad at God for quite a while," said Sue Baker. "I think any mother would go through that. You have to have someone to blame."

Adds Mark Baker: "It's human nature. Like the children who died in the car wrecks [this winter in Stafford County], you have to blame something, the ice or this or that. After a while you realize it isn't worth it."

Even after 15 years, the consequences of Amy's death continue to be felt within Amy's family and her circle of friends.

Her brother, David, just 16 at the time, was scarred by the loss of his sister. Now 31 and living near Front Royal with a family of his own, David is well aware of how quickly life-changing events can occur. That, his mother suggests, makes him a particularly attentive husband and father.

But Mark Baker adds that the tragedy has left his son "pissed off at the world," an attitude in stark contrast to the way David was before his sister was killed.

The Bakers still find fresh remembrances and notes at Amy's grave site in Fairfax around her birthday and the holidays. That's a nice feeling.

"Then we learned that one of her high school friends had named her little girl after Amy," said Sue Baker. "It was a bittersweet thing when we heard it.It kind of took our breath away."

A Fairfax police officer said this week that the county's Crime Solvers program will feature Amy's unsolved case later this month to mark the 15th anniversary. They hope to rekindle media interest by re-releasing a report on the investigation, despite the lack of new information.

The case also can be reviewed online at co.fairfax.va.us/ps/police/police11.htm.

RICHARD AMRHINE is a writer and editor with The Free Lance-Star.





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