Campouts and Corpses in an Urban Park

Exploring an infamous wilderness in West Baltimore.


I haven't listened to Serial, Sarah Koenig's much-praised podcast exploring the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee in Baltimore. But I have been to Leakin Park, where Lee's body was found, and I enjoyed Rona Kobell's article in Slate today about the place, which has long had a reputation as a corpse-dump. (Full disclosure: Kobell is my wife, and I have a cameo in her story.) Here's an excerpt:

Bunk and Lester in Leakin Park.

When I joined [The Baltimore Sun] in 2000, most reporters had to take a turn on the night desk, usually under the tutelage of one David Michael Ettlin. A consummate rewrite man, Ettlin had an exhaustive knowledge of Baltimore ephemera. Three points became clear quickly: Most Baltimore cops pronounce it "Lincoln" even though it is L-E-A-K-I-N; you could pronounce it however you wanted but you better spell it right; and dead bodies often wound up in Leakin Park. Ettlin recently lamented to me that today's murderers don't care enough to wrap up the bodies in rugs and dump them in the park. These days, he said, they just leave them where they lay.

And, on the more positive side:

Come closer, I have something to show you.
Rona Kobell

Molly Gallant is a Baltimore native who worked on outdoor programs in Alaska, then returned to her city determined to get Baltimoreans off the couch. Before long, Gallant had a job as an outdoor recreation programmer with the city parks department, taking locals kayaking in the polluted Inner Harbor, biking around city reservoirs, and hiking parks under the moonlight. Her co-workers applauded the boundary-pushing—until three years ago, when she organized an overnight campout in Leakin Park. Then, she said, they declared she was crazy. Even the normally unflappable Gallant, who was raised to believe Leakin Park was "somewhere you did not want to be," began to wonder if she was pushing her luck.

"There were tons of jokes," Gallant recalled. "Are we going to be that news story, 10 bodies found in Leakin Park?"

When they all woke up alive, Gallant decided it was time to get the rest of Baltimore in on the fun. She worked with volunteers to shut down access roads that, in Gallant's words, "were screaming, 'dump me here.'"

I can't speak to the park's charms as a campground, but in the daytime it really is a nice place. (I especially like the Blair Witch–esque art that's been placed along some of the trails, such as the winged crocodile head pictured above.) To read the rest of the article, go here.