Rash of thefts at area churches believed linked

February 08, 1991|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Religion Editor of The Sun

About 60 church and synagogue burglaries in Baltimore County in the past 18 months were probably committed by the same thieves, police investigators have determined.

These unsolved cases involve about 50 religious buildings -- from Catonsville, Randallstown, Reisterstown and Towson all the way north to the Pennsylvania line. Some were burglarized twice.

What links these cases, in the view of the investigators, is the similarity of time and method of the break-ins and the objects taken: computers, television sets, videocassette recorders, microwave ovens, sound equipment and at least one electric guitar. Cash and some silver also have been found missing.

In none of the cases were religious artifacts stolen, and none of the thefts connected by police so far has occurred at a Roman Catholic church.

The investigators find this curious but can only speculate about thereasons. Several Catholic churches in the region are protected by outside lighting and burglar alarms, and most are ++ adjacent to priests' residences that are occupied night and day, they said.

The cases account for a 70 percent increase over the usual number of church break-ins in the county, according to Sgt. Stephen R. Doarnberger, a police spokesman.

County police have appealed to all religious congregations in the area to improve security and to prepare detailed records, including serial numbers, of any electronic equipment of the kind the thieves seem to prefer.

Many of the churches and synagogues linked in the police

investigation are relatively isolated.

While some Catholic parishes in the metropolitan area have experienced break-ins over the 18-month period, none of these is on the list of connected cases. Just this week, for example, late Monday night or early Tuesday, St. Pius X Roman Catholic

Church on York Road south of Towson was broken into, but nothing was taken.

Sergeant Doarnberger said it was not unusual for five church burglaries a month to be reported in Baltimore County; the 60 similar cases are in addition to that number.

He said most occurred between midnight and 6 a.m. and involved the prying open of a window or door. In only one, at St. John's United Church of Christ in the 1000 block of South Rolling Road in Catonsville, was there extensive interior damage. During the ransacking at St. John's, many locked doors were smashed, the sergeant said.

Baltimore County churches that were struck a second time in recent weeks -- and by the same burglars, in the view of police -- were Reisterstown United Methodist Church in the 200 block of Main Street in Reisterstown; Emmanuel Messianic Congregation in the 7000 block of Queen Anne Road in the Lochearn area; Korean Presbyterian Church in the 1600 block of West Seminary Avenue in the Brooklandville area; and Northwest Baptist Church in the 300 block of Westminster Road in Reisterstown.

Other buildings on the investigators' list of 60 linked cases included Baltimore Christian Faith Center, Randallstown; Sherwood Episcopal and Sherwood Lutheran churches, both in Cockeysville; Towson Unitarian Church on Dulaney Valley Road; Maryland Presbyterian Church on Providence Road, Towson; Epiphany Episcopal Church on Pot Spring Road, Lutherville; Timonium Presbyterian Church, on West Timonium Road; and St. James Episcopal Church, Monkton.

Baltimore County officers have consulted police in other nearby counties and in Baltimore but have found possible relevance to their investigation among only a few unsolved church burglary ,, cases in the city and in Montgomery County, Sergeant Doarnberger said.

Dennis S. Hill, a Baltimore police spokesman, said "several" church break-ins within the past six months in northern and northeastern Baltimore are thought to have been committed by the same burglars as in the string of Baltimore County cases.

Police in Anne Arundel and Howard counties said there had been no increase in church break-ins similar to Baltimore County's.

At a meeting of representatives of churches of various denominations Jan. 30 at Cockeysville Baptist Church, Baltimore County police offered advice about security.

The Rev. Rowland D. Scott, the Cockeysville Baptist pastor, said that fortunately, the burglars had spared his church so far.

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