A gang of gunmen that may be responsible for a series of robberies in Baltimore and Baltimore County struck again yesterday, and this time a motel manager was shot and seriously wounded during the holdup of a Pikesville Holiday Inn.
The police said they were also looking into the possibility that three other armed robberies committed yesterday -- at a downtown bank, at a finance company in Hunt Valley and in a shopping center parking lot in the Woodlawn area -- were committed by the same gang, whose tactics were growing increasingly violent.
"There are similarities," said Dennis S. Hill, Baltimore police spokesman. "We're looking into it, but we're not saying at this point that they are connected."
E. Jay Miller, Baltimore County police spokesman, said there were similarities in the robbers' methods, including the fact that "they move quickly."
One possibility, the police said, is that copycat gangs have sprung up and are now imitating the original gang's tactic of swift movement, a display of weaponry and intimidation of anyone who gets in the way or moves too slowly.
But yesterday's robbery of the Holiday Inn in the 1700 block of Reisterstown Road in Pikesville was by far the most violent in the series of nearly two dozen armed robberies that began last fall.
Three men -- one carrying what was described as a long barreled gun, the other two displaying automatic pistols -- burst into the small lobby of the motel just before 6 p.m. According to the police, the robbers announced a holdup and told the three employees of the motel who were at the desk to open the safe.
"Being scared, they were unable to do so, and a single gunshot went off," said Sgt. Mark Cowley of the Baltimore County police.
The motel's assistant general manager, 34-year-old Robert McNeil, was hit in the abdomen. He was undergoing surgery and listed in critical condition at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
The bandits fled, and it was unclear whether they got away with any cash from the motel.
In the other three robberies yesterday, victims were roughed up, some of them pistol-whipped. The victims of some of the previous robberies have been similarly attacked.
But yesterday was the first time anyone has been shot during one of the holdups, which have previously concentrated on supermarkets or fast-food stores.
The first robbery yesterday occurred just before 2 p.m. when three well-dressed men displaying 9mm semiautomatic handguns entered the Carrollton Bank of Baltimore in the first block of West Saratoga Street, the police said.
As one of the robbers stood in the lobby of the bank holding a gun to an employee, a second bandit vaulted the counter, shoved several female tellers and put a gun to the head of a male teller. The man then emptied out four cash drawers, inadvertently taking with him some of the explosive packages of dye banks keep in their cash drawers to help identify money stolen in a holdup.
As the robbers fled the bank, the dye packs exploded. The robbers threw to the sidewalk the duffel bag they had used to carry away the cash, the police said.
Police officers summoned by the alarm chased the men through the downtown area and thought at one point they had cornered them, only to find they had the wrong men, the police said.
About two hours later, four men with similar descriptions went into General Motors Acceptance Corp. in the 200 block of Schilling Circle in Hunt Valley and ordered about 30 employees to lie on the floor, said Mr. Miller of the Baltimore County police.
The spokesman said that during the robbery, one man was struck on the head with a pistol, and a woman was kicked in the stomach.
The robbers took several thousand dollars.
At 5:30 p.m., two people told the police they were robbed and pistol-whipped on the parking lot of a shopping center in the 1700 block of Woodlawn Drive in the Woodlawn area. Mr. Miller said that because of the method of robbery and the descriptions given of the gunmen, the police were investigating the possibility it was another in the series of robberies, even though this time there were only two gunmen involved.
The police said their main problem in positively linking the robberies to the same gang or group of gangs was the lack of detailed descriptions of the suspects.
"If anyone is unfortunate [enough] to be robbed, our advice is to very quietly observe the features of the suspects to look for any characteristics that would distinguish one person from another," spokesman Miller said.
The police thought they had put an end to most of the robberies last Friday when they arrested six men and charged two of them with separate robberies thought to have been committed by the shotgun gang.
Thus, the police think they must now be facing copycat gangs.
On Tuesday, the city police announced they were forming a special squad to patrol shopping center parking lots.