Michael Amon

Too Many Mysteries for One Family

Posted in The Washington Post by michaelamon on December 7, 2006

February 22, 2002 — Washington Post, p. A1
Police Puzzle Over 3 Children’s Deaths
Michael Amon, Washington Post Staff Writer

WALDORF, Md. — The first 911 call came on Christmas Eve 1995. A young couple in the planned community of St. Charles in Southern Maryland told authorities they had found their baby dead in her crib. Charles County officers began investigating but stopped after the medical examiner’s office ruled it a case of sudden infant death syndrome. Kaitlin Norman was 2 months old.

The second call came in July 1997. Emergency personnel summoned to the same town house on Willow View Place found another baby, this one with severe head injuries. The father told police the boy had fallen and hit his head.

Brandon Norman, 7 months old, was admitted to Physicians Medical Center (now Civista), where he underwent surgery. A month later, still in the hospital, he died. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide. Police immediately began an investigation, and the Charles County Department of Social Services removed an older daughter from the parents’ custody. But no one was charged in the case, and the girl was returned to her parents.

The third call came Sept. 5. Police and emergency personnel responded to a town house in Waldorf — the family had been evicted from the St. Charles house — and found a 3-year-old girl dead. Law enforcement sources said her parents — the same parents — claimed that Maddison Norman had choked on a barrette. The medical examiner ruled the manner of her death “undetermined.”

After Maddison died, the Department of Social Services removed the older girl and a 2-year-old boy from the home, and the sheriff’s office began investigating the three deaths as possible homicides. But when that investigation was only six weeks old, another call came in from the town house on Hadley Drive. Documents filed in District Court allege that Michael Norman, father of the three dead children, had shot and killed his wife’s lover in their driveway. He has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.

No one outside the Norman household knows the events that unfolded there over the years. Michael’s family said he and his wife, Buffy M. Norman, would not discuss the children’s deaths even with them; his grandparents, for example, had to call the medical examiner’s office to find out how Kaitlin had died.

“Only they know what happened — he and she,” said one of Michael’s relatives, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “She said if we kept asking that question, she would leave.”

Law enforcement sources said the parents have described the three deaths as accidental. Michael Norman, 28, declined through his attorneys to be interviewed for this article. Buffy Norman, 28, and her mother, Barbara Arnett, with whom she lives, declined numerous requests for comment.

But what is clear is that Kaitlin, Brandon and Maddison Norman spent their brief lives in a home plagued by financial difficulties and marital strife. For the last four years, the family was under the care of Social Services personnel, but Buffy concealed much of the family’s life from the caseworker, according to Michael’s family. Now two other children wait in foster care, their future dependent on the outcome of the investigation.

Law enforcement sources familiar with the children’s deaths said they have been frustrated by the three cases, noting that the lack of witnesses other than the parents makes solving them particularly difficult.

Robert Kirschner, a forensic pathologist in Chicago who is considered an expert in child homicides, noted that, in the absence of a confession, prosecutors are “never sure how a jury will react.”

Lt. Richard Gregory, of the Charles County Sheriff’s Office, said, “Child deaths are generally some of the toughest investigations that we have to do.”

Michael Norman and Buffy M. Arnett met in 1992 when he was working at a Giant Food supermarket in Temple Hills and she was working at a fast-food restaurant nearby. Michael had a girlfriend, but the petite, impeccably dressed Arnett lured him away.

At 19, standing 5 feet 7 and weighing barely 130 pounds, Michael was no playboy. But Buffy later told his family that his hazel eyes attracted her.

“Buffy saw him and just thought he had those beautiful eyes and set out for him,” one of Michael’s relatives said. “She got a thrill out of taking him from this girl.”

Not long after the two started dating, Michael moved out of his aunt’s home to Temple Hills so he could be closer to his new girlfriend, family members said. The couple’s first child, a girl, was born in 1993. In late 1994, Michael got a job with the U.S. Postal Service at the Capitol Heights distribution center, and the couple married in April 1995. On June 30, they bought the St. Charles town house. Kaitlin was born soon after.

The move to Charles County was one Michael never wanted to make, his family says. It put an hour of drive time between him and his family in Gaithersburg and lengthened his commute to Capitol Heights. But Buffy and his family often had a chilly relationship, and she did not want them close enough to come by unexpectedly, a relative of Michael’s said.

The couple seemed very much in love at first, said Myra Butler, the aunt who has acted as a spokeswoman for Michael’s family since his arrest. She raised Michael after his mother died of an aneurysm when he was 14.

But the children seemed an ever-present tension in their lives, Butler said. “From the time Michael has been with Buffy, there have always been questions about the kids,” Butler said. The other tension was money — a problem from the beginning, and one that only got worse.

Butler was with Buffy and Michael on Christmas Eve when they took the two little girls to see Santa Claus at the St. Charles Towne Center shopping mall, according to members of Michael’s family.

About 10 that night, there was a frantic telephone call from the young couple: They told Michael’s relatives that they had gone in to check on little Kaitlin a couple of hours after putting her down to sleep and found she was not breathing.

After Kaitlin was declared dead, the couple brushed off all questions and the medical examiner ruled it was SIDS. Family members, though heartbroken and stunned, went on with their lives.

Then the Normans began to face serious financial difficulties.

Michael’s family said Buffy’s taste for expensive clothing aggravated the young couple’s money problems. In February 1996, May Department Stores sued Buffy for failing to pay her credit card bill.

Brandon, the couple’s first son, was born the next December, the same month that Norwest Mortgage Inc. sued the Normans for not making payments on their $ 160,000 mortgage on the Willow View Place town house.

On Feb. 3, 1997, a few weeks after Brandon’s birth, the Normans filed for bankruptcy in federal court in Greenbelt. The move allowed them to stave off eviction.

It was about six months later, in early July, that emergency personnel again were called to the home on Willow View. Law enforcement sources said Michael told police that he was caring for the baby while his wife was out of the house and that Brandon had hit his head. As police launched an investigation, the baby was rushed to the hospital. And Michael stopped going to work.

A few weeks later, according to family members, Michael was fired from his Postal Service job in Capitol Heights.

On Aug. 26, Brandon died. He was buried near Kaitlin at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Silver Spring.

Again, the family was told little about the circumstances of the death.

“We didn’t know what to make of this whole thing,” one of Michael’s relatives said. “We had no idea what was going on.”

Butler said the family soon noticed a profound change in Michael: Butler described it as a nervous breakdown. At one point, he disappeared for more than 24 hours in the family car, leaving the family frantic and debating whether to call police, Butler said. When he showed up, he refused to talk about why he had left or where he had gone.

Though there were what family members described as many meetings involving the couple, police and social workers, the evidence trail in Brandon’s death quickly went cold. The police investigation languished. The older girl was returned to her parents. A caseworker remained assigned to monitor the family, sources said.

Maddison was born in June 1998, and another boy followed a little more than a year later. Butler said Social Services officials did not know until after Maddison was born that Buffy had been pregnant.

“Buffy didn’t want them coming into her home,” Butler said.

Family members said Buffy went to considerable trouble to conceal her pregnancies and the existence of Maddison from social workers who continued to visit the town house. They said she kept all of Maddison’s formula and baby food in a big bag that she took with her whenever she left the house. That way, family members said, if a caseworker visited while she was out, there would be no evidence of the two small children in the house.

Judith C. Wilson, assistant director of the Charles County Department of Social Services, would not comment about the Normans’ case.

The Normans’ financial problems persisted, and they were evicted in mid-1999. They moved to another town house in Waldorf, a rental unit in the 2900 block of Hadley Drive. Neighbors there said the couple kept to themselves.

“I don’t know if anybody really knew those people,” said Franklin Minor, 38, a neighbor who said he tried unsuccessfully to talk to them.

Family members said the move to the new house, even though it was not as nice as the Willow View Place residence, gave the young family a fresh start. Michael Norman was working at Cort Furniture Rental in Capitol Heights, and Buffy Norman worked at Bath and Body Works in the St. Charles Towne Center.

Early last year, though, their relationship began to disintegrate, according to Butler and law enforcement sources. Police said Buffy began a relationship with Alonzo D. Campbell, a barber in the mall where she worked.

Their relationship was no secret. Campbell’s wife, Cheryl, said he left her and his infant daughter in Lexington Park last summer to live near Buffy in Waldorf. He was often seen at the Normans’ residence, and he drove Buffy’s Ford Contour to work, said Samuel Harrison, owner of Harrison’s Barbershop, where Campbell worked in September and October.

“They would hug each other and love each other right here,” Harrison said.

Campbell’s constant presence frustrated Michael Norman, but his family said he kept his feelings inside.

“Michael was like a little robot around her,” one family member said. “She took away his manhood.”

As their marriage frayed, the Normans again faced financial problems. On July 20, the couple was sued in Charles County District Court for $ 9,152 for not making payments on their 1993 Ford Escort.

On Sept. 5, Maddison died. The medical examiner, who has refused to release autopsy reports on all the children pending criminal investigations, ruled the manner of her death “undetermined.” She was buried in Resurrection Cemetery in Clinton.

Again, social workers removed the two surviving children from their parents’ custody.

Three weeks later, a judge ordered the Normans to pay $ 12,303.39 to Credit Acceptance Corp. for their car.

On Oct. 21, authorities say, Alonzo Campbell pulled up to their Hadley Drive town house about 9:30 p.m., driving one of the Normans’ cars.

As Buffy watched from the sidewalk, Michael walked outside with a pistol in his hand and shot at least four times into the driver’s window, hitting Campbell in the head and chest, according to documents filed in District Court in La Plata.

Buffy screamed, ran at Michael and struggled with him over the gun before he pistol-whipped her in the head and fled, the court papers said. Neighbor Franklin Minor walked outside and saw Buffy Norman huddling over Campbell, saying: “I’m here for you, baby. I’m right here for you.”

Michael Norman was caught in Prince George’s County the next day. His trial on the murder charge is set for April 8. His wife is expected to be the prosecution’s star witness.

Metro researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.


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