Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

An old, cold case in the annals of Arlington crime has resurfaced. It’s an odd tale of an artifact from outer space, theft, prostitution and murder.

It comes to me from a dogged researcher, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University who noted I had mentioned the case briefly two years ago. Alexandra F. Rockafellar got curious in 2015, when she began a job in Nashville at Vanderbilt’s Dyer Observatory and learned of the 1960 national news story.

A dull black meteorite, found in Murray, Kentucky, in 1950, had gone missing from a Vanderbilt observatory display case, replaced by a suspicious-looking black-painted papier-mache rock. The true object was assessed at $2000.

A Nov. 30, 1960, Washington Post story carried a photo of Arlington Police Department property officer Robert Jones cradling the meteor and preparing to return it to Vanderbilt. Tennessee law enforcement sleuths had found fingerprints traced to former observatory employee and student Hugh Heefner Howard, 24. The perpetrator had brought it to his Arlington River House apartment at 1111 Army-Navy Dr., where our cops arrested him for grand larceny.

Howard, who worked briefly at the Smithsonian before running a health food store, ran into more trouble a decade later. Unemployed, he was arrested, following an undercover sting, for “attempting to procure prostitutes” in Fairfax and Arlington motels, notably the Arva on Pershing Dr. (now a Days Inn), according to Post coverage from Feb. 29, 1970. A female witness, Carolyn Parker, charged with prostitution, testified against him.

Judge Thomas Dodge charged Howard with felonies and misdemeanors, postponing sentencing. (The felonies were later dropped due to no-show witnesses.) He received a one-year sentence.

Just over a year later, on May 4, 1971, police found Hugh Howard’s body, with small-bore bullet holes in his head. He was in his mother’s apartment at 1900 S. Eads St. (Crystal House), splayed on her bed. Arrested for the crime: Carolyn Parker Connor. But she was not prosecuted due to “spousal privilege”. The case went cold. In 2018, Arlington police told me it had been closed because the prime suspect was deceased.

Rockafellar unearthed a mysterious reference to the Howard murder in a 1984 drug case, but has yet to determine precisely why the prosecution never happened. The Arlington police response to her Freedom of Information Act request this January confirmed the arrests. But the department continues to shield some details. That’s allowed under the Virginia code if release would “jeopardize an ongoing investigation or prosecution or the safety of an individual, cause a suspect to flee or evade detection, or result in the destruction of evidence.”

Rockafellar will post her account of the mystery in a YouTube video.

Masked and social-distanced, I arranged several encounters last week with Arlington’s scrambling small businesses.

My craving for pie was answered by Heather Sheire’s “Livin’ the Pie Life” at North Glebe and Lee Highway. After ordering my $32 multi-berry treat online, I got scheduled for her safely choreographed (via YouTube orientation) pick-up during a one-hour time-slot along the outdoor wall by her store patio.

At Arlington-Lee Cleaners at Lee Harrison shopping center, my friend Tom Curtis happened to ask the proprietor whether the resident seamstress could make face masks. No, she said, twice when he persisted. Finally, after consulting colleagues in her native Korean, she changed her mind. Owner Jung Choe later told me that on her first day, April 7, she sold 120 masks at $10 per.

At Sam Torrey Shoe Service at Lee Highway and George Mason Dr., owner Kevork Tchalekian told me business is “bad. He’s been repairing footwear with a rotating “skeletal staff,” which he hopes to bring back. “I understand people are scared,” he said of the virus.

A worse situation is the “big zero” roster of customers showing at the newly opened Cigar Unlimited store on Fairfax Dr. in Ballston. Owner Mo Fakhro said his premium smoke emporium was inaugurated only three weeks before the stay-at-home decree. He still makes the 40-mile commute to quietly man his display cases “just to get out of the house,” he said, “hoping to make $20 to feed his family.”