Both suspect and police are shocked when job application leads to a 1975 murder warrant. Chris Gordon reports.
A Washington, D.C., man was detained for first-degree murder when a background check for a new job revealed an outstanding warrant in one of the oldest cold case murders in Montgomery County.
Bobby Coley, 63, of southeast Washington, was applying for work as a temp Tuesday, when a background check uncovered an outstanding warrant in his name. When Coley went to the sheriff’s office to clear his name and land the job, he had no idea the warrant was for murder.
“We weren’t finding anything, and so we finally looked in judicial case search and we actually saw that a warrant popped up under that name, Bobby Coley, and it said, ‘first-degree murder,’” Montgomery County Sheriff Darren Popkin said.
The victim, Leopold Lynwood Chromak, disappeared on July 26, 1975. Two days later his wife contacted police and reported him missing.
“But Mr. Chromak was never located, never returned home,” said Lucille Baur, of Montgomery County police.
In 1984, a detective learned that the missing person case was actually a murder-for-hire, and that Chromak’s wife, Frances, had hired three men -- Griffin, Smitty and Bobby Coley -- to kill her husband. According to police documents, the woman said her husband was abusive and had beaten her.
The three men allegedly smothered Chromak at Winexburg Manor Apartments in Silver Spring, Md., wrapped his body in a rug or carpet, took it to a van and dumped it along Central Avenue.
The 63-year-old Coley, who has been in and out of federal custody on various charges since 1968, was in the D.C. Jail when the arrest warrant was filed in 1984. He wasn’t detained afterward and apparently never knew of the warrant.
The detective investigating the murder-for-hire said Frances Chromak changed her name to Barbara Ann Stevens and moved to Laurel, Md. Her whereabouts are unknown but she is believed to still be alive.
The 1975 murder case presents challenges for prosecutors. No body has been found, there is no direct evidence against Coley, and anonymous sources who supplied information in the past may no longer be available.
“So, now the investigating begins anew,” Baur said. “Now we go back. We find the original case files, the records.”
The public defender representing Coley in court said there’s no proof there was a murder and it’s unfair to hold Coley in jail while police and prosecutors investigate.
The prosecutor said he has to assess the viability of the 37-year-old case.
Coley is being held without bond.
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