Unexpected Apprehension in 1975 Murder-for-Hire Case - NBC4 Washington

Unexpected Apprehension in 1975 Murder-for-Hire Case

Suspect was unaware of 1984 murder warrant

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    Break in One of the Oldest Cold Cases in Montgomery County

    A man trying to clear his name to apply for a job discovers he's wanted in a murder-for-hire case from 1975. News4's Chris Gordon reports. (Published Wednesday, May 30, 2012)

    One of the oldest cold case murders in Montgomery County may have been solved -- by accident.

    Bobby Coley, 63, of southeast Washington, was applying for work as a temp Tuesday. A background check uncovered an outstanding warrant against him. When he 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 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 got information that the missing person case was actually a murder-for-hire and that Chromak’s wife, Frances, hired three men -- Griffin, Smitty and Bobby Coley -- to kill her husband because he abused and beat her, according to the 1984 warrant. They allegedly smothered Chromak at Winexburg Manor Apartments, 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 but apparently 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. 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 the information may not 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.

    In Montgomery County District Court, the prosecutor said he has to assess the viability of the 37-year-old case.

    Coley is being held without bond.