An 88-year-old man who worked full time as a salesman in some of Baltimore's worst crime areas died yesterday of an apparent heart attack after a thief jumped him as he was on his East Baltimore route.
Frank Altman, a workaholic who never gave up his job even as he approached 90, struggled with the attacker who tried to take his wallet in the 1800 block of N. Wolfe St. He collapsed, and the thief took the wallet as he lay on the ground, police said.
The Northwest Baltimore resident died shortly after arrival at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The event is being investigated as a murder and robbery, since Mr. Altman's death resulted from the attack, homicide detectives said.
"He had just had a complete physical last week, with an EKG, and he was very fit," his wife of 14 years, Toba Altman, said last night. "He loved that job. Even though he was going to be 89, he never complained of an ache or pain."
Police said Mr. Altman, a salesman for the Harry C. Walterhoefer Paper Co. who drove every day to meet his city clients, had gotten into a collision with a beer truck about 4 p.m. yesterday and pulled over on Wolfe Street to check the damage.
Shortly after he got out of his car, parked near the corner of North Avenue, a man grabbed him from behind and started wrestling with him, police said. Mr. Altman struggled for a few moments and then fell to the ground; the attacker pulled his wallet and ran off.
Mrs. Altman, who married Mr. Altman when he was 75 and a widower, described him as a man who loved work -- as well as the city in which he had lived nearly all his life.
"He never wanted to stop," she said. "He drove all day, just taking orders, and he would go to the places that a lot of people wouldn't go -- to the Mondawmin area, Pimlico, Northwest Baltimore. He loved coming home and telling me stories every day about the people."
Mr. Altman was one of eight company salesmen dealing in such products as paper goods, institutional foods, janitorial items and holiday supplies. His rounds took him to restaurants, taverns and other small businesses where, his wife said, "he met people from all walks of life."
He moved to Baltimore from Poland when he was 4, never moving out of the city, living for many years in Forest Park, she said.
For more than 30 years, he owned his own business, Altman Paper Co., which had a warehouse near Hollins Market, his wife said.
He was a Civil War buff but, as his wife noted, "he was too young for the first World War and too old for the second.
"He fought his own private war on the streets," Mrs. Altman said. "I told him he could do a lot of his job on the telephone, but he didn't want to give it up."
Apparently it was not the first time Mr. Altman had been robbed on his rounds of some 100 business accounts, many of them stores in high-crime neighborhoods, a company official said last night.
Jerry Walterhoefer, vice president of the family-owned paper business, said he heard "through the grapevine" that Mr. Altman kept money in the trunk of his car to replace any company losses from robberies.
"He would replace it with his own money because he was afraid he would be fired, he being such an old man in these neighborhoods that they were taking advantage of him."
Mr. Walterhoefer said he would ask Mr. Altman about such tales and he would deny it all the time."
"He worked every day on the street, rain or shine," said Mr. Walterhoefer, 33, who noted that Mr. Altman had been "a competitor with my grandfather, the original Harry -- the founder of the company."
"He was something, a real competitor on the street, and we're really going to miss him a lot. I'm sitting here and I don't know what we're going to do.
Mr. Altman was the company's oldest salesman, Mr. Walterhoefer said, adding, "He died in the line of duty."