A South Baltimore dockworker who police say made more than 3,000 obscene telephone calls in the past 24 years has been arrested by Baltimore County police.
Victor Herbert Gardner Sr., 46, was arrested at his home in the 1100 block of Hull St. and charged with 39 counts of telephone misuse, stemming from obscene calls he allegedly placed during 1990.
Conviction on the charges could result in a maximum sentence of 117 years in prison and a $19,500 fine.
Gardner was released on his own recognizance, with the condition that he continue getting treatment at the Sexual Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Police believe Gardner is the man who became known as the kidnap -- or bridal -- caller, someone who terrorized women by claiming to have kidnapped a friend or loved one, then demanding that they do something perverted while he listened.
No one was ever kidnapped, but the caller routinely would threaten to harm the supposed kidnap victim, if not obeyed.
Over the years, police found that the caller used wedding announcements printed in The Sun and other newspapers to call bridesmaids or brides. He also would call college dormitories and pay phones at Goucher College, the College of Notre Dame and other local colleges.
"I've been after the guy for 11 years," said Detective Joe Price yesterday.
Price said the break in the case came last spring after he and security officers at Goucher and Notre Dame told students about the caller and urged them to use a new C&P Telephone Co. feature called caller-trace. If the recipient of a crank call punches *57 after hanging up, the phone company's computer can trace and record the number from which the call came.
Price said police zeroed in on a phone booth at the Locust Point Marine terminal, where seven crank calls had originated.
Detective Lee Russo began hanging out at the dock, posing as a customs agent. He watched who was placing telephone calls. Meanwhile, police knew who was being called from the pay phone, because they got a court-ordered pen-register, or list of all outgoing calls.
"Any calls over four or five minutes, we would call the person and ask them if they had had an obscene call," said Price. "Through this, we were able to identify Gardner."
Price said police helped Gardner seek psychiatric help. "We didn't go out to persecute the guy. He's sick. He needs help."
The road to catching the bridal caller was a long one for Price, who spent years pasting copies of wedding announcements on the walls of his Towson office and waiting for a break.
The closest Price came before this was in December 1982, when a woman realized she was being harassed by the bridal caller. She and her husband were able to record part of the call.
To satisfy an old curiosity, the detectives also asked Gardner where he got the idea for telling people he'd kidnapped someone close to them.
" 'The FBI,' he told us," said Price. "And we said, 'The FBI?' He got it from the old FBI TV show. There was an episode where a guy told a woman he had her husband kidnapped and if she didn't do what he said, he would kill the husband. He said he thought he could use that to have complete control over someone."