Looking for Hell in all the Wrong Places: Part 3-Bridge Over River Die
By David A. Chiodaroli
Every day, hundreds of motorists cross over the Union Dam Bridge, a stretch of Route 40 on the Baltimore National Pike that runs over the Patapsco River in Catonsville, Maryland. The bridge is a popular stop for hikers and adventurists who don’t mind the steep, jagged path one would have to treck in order to get there. At the very bottom of the bridge, the sound of the rushing water muffles out the traffic from above, and it’s possible to lose oneself in this rare union between man and nature. It’s almost enough to make one forget that the underside of the bridge was once the scene of a grisly rampage, where five people lost their lives at the hands of a monster.
Or so, that’s what Joe Metheny said in a lengthy jailhouse confession that he gave while serving life for the murder of two women in the late 90s. While he later confessed to killing ten people, no evidence was ever found proving his claims, and he was only convicted of the killings of Cathy Ann Magaziner and Kimberly Spicer, a pair of prostitutes who he killed in 1995. After luring the two women to his trailer, Metheny claimed that, after he stabbed and strangled them to death, he butchered their bodies and sold their meat at a pit beef stand he ran on weekends.
“The human body tastes very similar to pork,” Metheny said in his confession. “If you mix it together [with pork] no one can tell the difference.”
Metheny was later caught after trying to do the same to a third woman, Rita Kemper, in December, 1996. Despite enduring a heavy beating, Kemper managed to escape from his trailer and alert the police. Metheny surrendered and was later convicted on the killings.
But after his capture, Metheny said that his blood-soaked rampage began in the summer of 1994, after his drug-addled wife abandoned him and took their six-year-old son. This is where the Union Dam bridge comes into play, because it was under here where Metheny’s wife lived with a pair of homeless men, after losing their son to child protective services. This was also where my girlfriend and I found ourselves on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, possibly retracing the steps that an enraged Metheny took, after learning of his wife’s location.
We didn’t come alone, of course. Along with us were my girlfriend’s two dogs, Yashka, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel/German Shepherd mix, and Minnie, a Shih Tzu. The dogs seemed more eager than us to make it down the steep incline that lead all the way to the river’s banks. As they climbed over the sharp rocks that jutted out along the length of the path, humanity’s limitation of walking on just two legs became abundantly clear. But despite the difficulty it took to reach the site, we eventually found ourselves in shadow of the bridge that towered over the scene of the alleged crime.
As we walked along the rocky beach towards the bridge, Metheny’s words reverberated through my mind, reminding me that this picturesque scene had a gruesome secret. After reaching the bridge, Metheny found that his wife was nowhere to be seen, but the homeless men were still there.
“They were passed out on some old, stinking mattress, and that’s where they were when I left, except they were dead from being chopped up.”
After killing the two men with an axe, Metheny said that he lured a ‘crack whore’ down to the bridge. “I got her high and was trying to get information out of her about my ole’ lady’s whereabouts. She acted like she didn’t know, so I beat the hell out of her and raped her ass [and] then killed her.”
Then, an unlucky fisherman, who was just trying to get some bites on the river bank, stumbled upon the carnage, and Metheny wasn’t about to let him alert the authorities. “I grabbed a steel pipe that was lying by and ran him down and layed his head wide open.”
Metheny claimed that he weighed down the bodies with rocks and put them in the river, but when he took investigators back to the bridge after his capture, no remains were found, and Metheny was never charged with the crimes he said took place there three years prior.
Metheny was sentenced to death in 1998, but the condemnation was appealed two years later, and he was given life in prison. Rather than celebrate this decision, Metheny actually begged the jury to give him the death penalty, rather than let him live the rest of his life behind bars. “The words ‘I’m sorry’ will never come out, for they will be a lie,” Metheny told the jury, “I would rather give up my life for what I have done, to have God judge me and send me to hell for all eternity.”
It would be seventeen years before Metheny got his wish; on August 5th, 2017, Metheny was found dead in his prison cell at the age of 62. At the time of this writing, the cause of his death is still unknown.
As we leave the banks of the Patapsco River, I realize that regardless of whatever may or may not have happened under that bridge two decades ago, the area has moved on. On the way out, we observe a pair of deer run down the side of the hill on the opposite bank, turn and dash back up the other side. A hiker with a small, white poodle greets us on the way up, and a mother and child stop to pet the dogs and ask where the waterfall was. Surely, any wounds that Metheny may have opened have healed well enough, so that people can enjoy this quaint spot without the stain of long forgotten depravity to trouble them. But as I look back on the bridge, growing smaller as we ascend the hill, I can’t help but wonder how many people pass along the bridge, unaware of the horrors that may have taken place there. I have no doubt that everyone has, at one point of their lives, unknowingly ventured through or past locations with dark histories, where people died at the hands of another. It goes to show that nowhere, not even the most unassuming of places, is not safe from mankind’s wrath, and his desire for destruction.
Photo Credit: David A. Chiodaroli