Baltimore police say they've solved the Bolton Hill doorplate mystery.
Someone had been stealing ornate doorplates and doorknobs from Victorian homes along Eutaw Place and Park Avenue. Last Friday, a man sold the pieces to an antique dealer for $40.
"He spoke well, and didn't appear to be an idiot by any means," said the dealer, Barr Harris of Harris Auction Galleries on Howard Street. "He brought in a carton of about 13 plates. I [thought] they would bring about $15 or $20 apiece."
As a matter of routine, Mr. Harris photocopied the man's driver's license before purchasing the carton and its contents for $40.
Three days later, Mr. Harris read in The Sun that a thief had been unscrewing the fancy brass door fixtures from homes in Bolton Hill. The so-called "escutcheon thief" -- a title stemming from the proper name for the doorplates -- had caused uneasiness throughout the neighborhood.
Mr. Harris, himself a Bolton Hill resident, called the police.
Detective David Manning said yesterday that he was in the process of getting a warrant charging the suspect with theft. He described the man as 34 years old and from Baltimore, with a prior arrest record.
"We think he was stealing these things to cash in on a quick buck," the detective said.
Police are still trying to track down the owners of the escutcheons.
"We're asking anyone in Bolton Hill who is missing their plate or knob to contact us," said Detective Manning, who has 13 plates and three doorknobs in his evidence box.
So far, he's found two owners.
"I went around the neighborhood today myself and tried to match the rest to doors. But a lot of people weren't home, and I couldn't tell which ones belonged on which doors," he said.
J. Ripley Miller, a computer consultant whose doorplate was stolen last week, said he was grateful to the police for solving the crimes and not dismissing them as petty larcenies.
"I was very pleased with them. They really did look," Mr. Miller said. "And today they're doing the real detective work by trying to match the plates to doors. It won't be easy."
Many of the door plates are cast brass or bronze and come in pairs, one for each of the double-entry, beveled-glass front doors.
Detective Manning said many owners who filed reports of thefts gave high estimates of the value of the plates. A polished brass plate from the turn of the century could fetch as much as $500, he said.