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The Tragic Deaths of Joseph & Bernice Ohler

Dennis O'Brien
Baltimore Sun Staff

Joseph and Bernice Ohler, both in their 80s, were known for helping people in Rosedale, a working-class community of tidy brick homes just inside the Beltway.

They were active in the neighborhood watch program and worked to have state highway crews repair potholes in nearby streets. Each morning, Joseph Ohler, a retired electrician, would pick up newspapers dropped off in the street near his elderly neighbors' homes and place them at their doorsteps.

They quietly gave money to the Salvation Army, to the Nebraska-based Girls and Boys Town organization, and to other charities. Their wills included a $40,000 bequest to Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, where Joseph was frequently an usher at Sunday services.

The Rev. Gerry R. Rickel, pastor of Prince of Peace, used the money to set up an endowment that pays for nurses to visit homes of the elderly and for outreach programs for handicapped and underprivileged children.

"They were quiet, mild-mannered, peaceful people," Rickel says.

Brought together by death and loneliness, the Ohlers were enjoying "their second chance at life," says Bernice Ohler's brother, Clarence Pond, 83.

"They lived next door to each other, and first Bernice's husband died and then Joe's wife died, so you had a widow and a widower living next door to each other," he says.

The marriage - the second for each of them - lasted 34 years.

Perhaps because they had lived in their neighborhood for five decades, they felt safe enough to welcome a stranger who knocked on their door at 6513 Golden Ring Road.

The Ohlers gave money twice to Borchardt, who was going door to door and obtaining money by claiming that his wife needed cancer treatments. At one point, Joseph Ohler gave Borchardt a ride to a street corner near Patterson Park, supposedly so he could pick up a prescription to help with those treatments.

But Borchardt was conning the Ohlers.

It was about 8 p.m. Thanksgiving night, Nov. 26, when Borchardt and girlfriend Jeanne Sue Cascio knocked one last time on the Ohlers' door. The Ohlers had just returned from a holiday dinner at the Old Country Buffet restaurant on Joppa Road in Carney and were still dressed in their best clothes.

Borchardt and Cascio had taken heroin earlier that day, but it didn't give them the high they wanted. So they had returned to the Ohlers' home to try to get more cash.

That night, next-door neighbor Irvin Tarbart became suspicious when the lights in the Ohlers' house remained on later than usual. Joseph Ohler, 81, who was raised on an Emmitsburg farm during the Depression and kept handwritten ledgers of every penny he spent, always turned out the lights when the couple went to bed.

Just before midnight, Tarbart went next door to investigate. "I saw the lights on in the bedroom, in the hallway and in the breezeway - all these lights that normally aren't on - and I knew something was wrong. So I backed up, and that's when I saw Joe."

Tarbart had almost tripped over the eviscerated body, which was lying face up near some carefully tended rosebushes. After Tarbart called 911, police found Bernice Ohler, 82, in the rear of the house, stabbed three times.

Borchardt and Cascio were quickly charged with the killings. Two days before the murders, Borchardt had left a handwritten IOU for $60 on a table in a back hallway. Police also found Cascio's welfare card on the floor nearby.

Borchardt later confessed, telling detectives that he wanted money for heroin and stabbed the Ohlers when they refused to give him $40. He also told police that the murders had left him with a "taste" for blood and a desire to kill again.

Cascio, also a heroin addict, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole after testimony showed that she struggled with Bernice Ohler and held her while Borchardt stabbed her.

Although the Ohlers had more than $3,500 hidden in drawers and coat pockets around the house, Borchardt fled with only the money from Joseph Ohler's wallet.

The total: $11.

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