Customers witness fatal shooting during downtown robbery attempt at Burke's.


March 07, 1991|By Laura Lippman and Robert Hilson Jr. | Laura Lippman and Robert Hilson Jr.,Evening Sun Staff

The popular night manager of a busy downtown restaurant was fatally shot last night by a would-be robber as patrons watched in horror.

Thomas Lafferty, 36, of Catonsville, the night manager at Burke's Cafe, was pronounced dead at the Shock-Trauma Unit in Baltimore about 10:50 p.m., about 50 minutes after the attempted robbery at the restaurant at 36 Light St.

According to accounts culled from the more than 30 patrons and employees at the restaurant, a man in his early to mid-20s entered Burke's shortly after 10 p.m. and told Lafferty to give him whatever cash he had.

Theresa Shoemaker, the bartender manager and an 11-year employee at Burke's, said she was at a dishwasher not far from Lafferty, who was behind the bar.

"Tommy had just gotten a six-pack of beer for a customer when the guy came in," Shoemaker said. "I heard Tommy raise his voice. The guy said 'You're not going to give it to me,' and Tommy said 'No.' The guy then raised his hand and he had a gun and he shot Tommy."

Shoemaker said the gunman shot Lafferty once, in the area just below his throat, with what appeared to be a small-caliber handgun. Lafferty collapsed on the floor behind the bar.

"I was in shock. Everyone was in shock," said Shoemaker, who ran to Lafferty and then hit a burglar alarm.

The gunman fled out the front door, heading east on Lombard Street. Shoemaker said several cafe patrons gave chase but were unable to catch him.

The gunman was in the restaurant for less than a minute and seemed calm and impassive as he pulled the trigger.

"He didn't give Tom a chance," said Tom Herrmann, manager of Burke's. "He just shot him."

Shoemaker said a bank deposit had been made a short time before the shooting, and so there was little money in the cash register.

Lafferty has two young children and had worked at the cafe for about two years, employees said. He was well-liked among regular Burke's customers.

"He just loved the business, he just ate the business," said Herrmann. "He was real jovial. He was a typical Irishman. St. Patrick's Day was his day and he always wanted that day off. He was a hell of a guy."

The crime bears no resemblance and apparently no connection to the rash of armed robberies at restaurants, food stores and banks throughout the city and Baltimore County, said homicide detective Mike Crutchfield.

In those crimes, three to four men armed with shotguns and semiautomatic handguns have quickly and efficiently robbed business establishments. In some of the more than two dozen such robberies since Oct. 31, shots have been fired, but only one man has been wounded.

The man involved in last night's shooting was described as a clean-shaven black male, about 5 feet 7 and 140 pounds. He was dressed in dark clothes and wore a dark baseball cap.

Herrmann, who was not present during the slaying, said the restaurant was robbed two months ago, causing him to make security changes. More changes will be made as the result of Lafferty's death, Herrmann said.

Shoemaker said she wonders if bolstered security can prevent incidents similar to last night's.

"No matter what you do, something like this is going to happen," she said.

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