A Baltimore man believed to have made as many as 3,000 obscene telephone calls over the past 23 years pleaded guilty yesterday to telephone misuse and then turned to some of his victims and begged for their forgiveness.
"I apologize to you, your family and friends. I am seeking help. I am so sorry," said Victor Herbert Gardner Sr., 46, his voice cracking with emotion as he spoke to at least 10 victims seated in a Baltimore County courtroom.
But Circuit Judge William R. Buchanan Sr. said that -- for now -- Gardner belonged in jail. He was sent to the county jail pending a pre-sentence investigation and reports from doctors. The judge set sentencing for Aug. 20.
Several women who were on the receiving end of Gardner's obscene phone calls said they agreed with the judge.
Gardner, who was arrested in January, signed a nine-page statement confessing to making obscene calls over the past 23 years. He was originally charged with 39 counts of telephone misuse, but he pleaded guilty to five, and the rest were dropped.
Police dubbed Gardner the "bridal kidnapper" because he often called sisters or relatives of brides whose weddings were announced in The Sun, telling them he had kidnapped the newlywed and would harm her unless they cooperated.
He also would call women in college dormitories and say that he had kidnapped their roommate, or he would call pay phones near schools hoping a woman would walk by and pick up the telephone.
Gardner never asked for any ransom money. What he wanted was "dirty talk" from the women while he masturbated underneath his trench coat, according to the statement of facts read in court yesterday.
If a woman passing a pay telephone picked up the receiver, Gardner would say that he would tell her where to find some money stashed nearby if she would cooperate in talking with him, said prosecutor Peter W. Johnson.
Gardner, a married longshoreman who lives in the 1100 block of Hull Street, was arrested with the help of new technology from the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. known as "Call Trace," police said.
"Call Trace," available in most parts of the state, allows customers to trace a call by using a code on their touch-tone telephone or, with a rotary phone, by dialing a four-digit number. The service costs $1 per traced call.
Gardner made many of the calls from a pay phone near the Locust Point Marine Terminal, where he worked. Police finally caught him by staking out the booth after a number of calls were traced to it.
When Gardner was arrested at his home, police recovered a trench coat with one of its pockets cut out.
Thomas Saunders, the defense lawyer, told the judge that his client was a victim of "horrific" child abuse and should be put on probation as long as he continued receiving professional help.
Gardner, he said, was raised by two alcoholic parents and suffered from sexual attacks from his father. Gardner coped with his unhappy childhood by "hiding under beds and in a box in the garage," Mr. Saunders said.
"Demons literally controlled him," Mr. Saunders said. Making the obscene phone calls was Gardner's way of dealing with the demons, his attorney said. He has lived "in a private hell" all of his life.
Gardner, who could be sentenced to three years for each TC charge, should be sent to jail, the prosecutor countered. "We are aware of his psychiatric problems and are not unsympathetic," Mr. Johnson told the judge. But he noted that Gardner did not turn himself in and sought help only after he was caught.
Gardner is receiving outpatient counseling and medication from the Sexual Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital.