WASHINGTON — The son of a disgraced former White House aide used a hatchet to kill a friend inside his parents’ garage in Gaithersburg, Md., authorities said Friday.
Claude Alexander Allen III, 20, was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Michael Phillip Harvey, 25, in a case that stunned friends and neighbors of a family that had already seen its share of calamity. Allen’s father, Claude Allen II, ended a promising political career in 2006 when he pleaded guilty to theft after resigning as then-President George W. Bush’s senior domestic policy adviser.
Detectives were still trying to determine what motivated Allen’s son when he allegedly attacked Harvey. One acquaintance said Harvey and Allen were good friends and that Harvey was a father to at least two young children. Court records show that both men had faced minor drug charges.
At 12:09 a.m. Friday, 911 operators for Montgomery County, Md. received a call from Claude Allen III that a burglary had occurred in the 7200 block of Cliff Pine Drive, a curving stretch of large lots and large homes less than an hour’s drive north of Washington.
The younger Allen lives at the address with his parents, but they were not home at the time of the call, according to police. Claude Allen III told the operator that he had killed the burglar.
“When we arrived he was waiting for us,” said Capt. Jim Daly, a spokesman for the Montgomery police department.
Allen led police officers to the body in a wooded thicket behind the home, according to police. Officers concluded that Allen and Harvey knew each other and that the home had not been broken into, Daly said. Police found the hatchet inside the house. They believe the attack started in the garage.
The victim and the suspect are not related, police said.
The younger Allen’s arrest comes seven years after the very public end of his father’s political career. Claude Allen II, now 52, pleaded guilty in 2006 to misdemeanor theft amid allegations that he stole items from Target and Hecht’s in Montgomery County.
Allen was arrested after Montgomery police accused him of stealing more than $5,000 in merchandise. Police said Allen would purchase items at a store. He would later return to the store, pick up identical items and seek a refund using the receipt from the purchase. Among the items involved, according to police, were a Bose home theater system, clothes and merchandise worth as little as $2.50.
The senior Allen has remained out of the public eye ever since, quietly pursuing charity work that included visiting an orphanage in Zambia, according to one recent interview, his first since his arrest. Several months ago, he spoke at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va. about taking responsibility for his crimes.
“He seemed to be on a very positive path,” said Michael Farris, the college chancellor and a friend who is well known in conservative political circles.
“It’s one of the saddest shocks I’ve heard,” Farris added regarding the younger Allen’s arrest.
In an interview published in September in the Christian magazine World, the elder Allen spoke about his reaction when the theft allegations came to light: “Great remorse. I knew it would hurt my witness for God, hurt my wife who had been so faithful and so loyal. The shame of it — my kids, they would face this. Suddenly, you go from a stellar career to a common thief.”
“God gives us second chances,” Allen added, “and I want to make the most of the second chance that He’s given me.”
A phone message left at the Allens’ home Friday was not returned, and a lawyer who represented the elder Allen previously declined to comment. Another lawyer who has represented both Allens did not return messages.
Robert Rashford, a neighbor who has known the Allens for 16 years, said they were active at the Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg. He said they have four children.
“This is a great family. We are all taken aback by the circumstances,” Rashford said. “We’re just trying to piece together what happened.”
Church officials issued a statement Friday: “The very sad story being reported in the news today is the only information we have at this time. We are grieving and praying for the family of the victim, the Allen family and all involved.”
Rashford said the younger Allen had just returned from college. The University of Richmond confirmed that Allen had been a student there until his departure in October.
Rashford described him as a good person who was athletic. Allen had played soccer and rugby. He was home-schooled before college.
It wasn’t clear how or when Allen met Harvey. Harvey had pleaded guilty repeatedly to minor drug and theft charges, while Allen had one scrape with Montgomery police in 2011 — pleading guilty to a paraphernalia charge, while a marijuana charge was dropped.
Gaithersburg resident Megan Morrissey, who said she had known Harvey for about five years, said he had worked for a temp agency and liked to play basketball. He had at least two young children, Morrissey said, and court records show he had faced at least two paternity suits. Harvey’s nickname was “pretty-eye Capone” because he had beautiful blue-green eyes, Morrissey said.
“He was funny and crazy,” Morrissey said. “He had a great personality.”
She described Harvey and the younger Allen as friends. “I don’t know where the double-cross happened,” she said.
On Friday, detectives walked from the back of the house to the thicket, at one point marking a clue in the middle of the yard. They wrapped sheets of protective paper around a large trash can, suggesting it would be taken away as evidence.
Police got a break in the case when they learned a third person had been in the house at the time of the attack.
Detectives located him and he cooperated during an interview, Daly said.
About 10:30 a.m., investigators wheeled a gurney from the crime scene, loaded it into a red sport-utility vehicle and drove off. The younger Allen was booked into the Montgomery County Detention Center and was being held Friday without bond.