Thieves thought to hide in malls for night raids 3 centers hit

more security sought

December 07, 1992|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Burglars who apparently hid at closing time have been blamed for after-hour raids on stores in three enclosed shopping malls in Baltimore's suburbs -- the latest at the upscale Owings Mills Mall this weekend, authorities said.

Police and mall officials speculated that one gang of thieves, clever enough to elude private security guards patrolling the malls, may be responsible for the crime wave.

Five stores at Owings Mills Mall were broken into Friday night or Saturday morning, despite the presence of a security guard inside and outside the shopping center. Two weeks ago, the target was White Marsh Mall -- where several of the same chain stores were hit.

Security Square Mall in Woodlawn was raided in November, said Vernon C. Oakman, a retired Baltimore County police lieutenant who is assistant manager of mall.

The apparent ease with which the burglars have eluded mall security officers and defeated locked store gratings and alarm-equipped outside doors has upset several merchants, who now want more than one officer patrolling inside the malls.

"We want to be mad at the security guard, but there was only one" inside the mall, said Kevin Hughes, assistant manager of the Sam Goody music store at Owings Mills. "We want more security."

Police and merchants believe the thieves' pattern is to hide inside a store when it closes on a Friday night, then pry up security gates to other stores far enough to slither through the entrance.

In some stores, the burglars have ransacked offices and stolen money from cash registers. The biggest hauls have come from battering open safes in several stores, and from stealing the store stereo system at the Owings Mills Sam Goody outlet.

An assistant manager at the Owings Mills Hallmark Cards store said a substantial amount was taken from the safe there, but would not say how much.

Baltimore County police said they were notified before 6 a.m. Saturday of the first burglary this weekend at Owings Mills, when a security guard spotted something amiss at one of the five stores. Break-ins at the other stores weren't noticed, however, until workers began arriving about 9 a.m.

Officer Daniel Pickard, of the county's Garrison precinct, said most of the damage was done in stockrooms and offices and was not readily apparent from mall promenades.

The thieves bashed open a safe at Matthew's Hallmark store, stole cash register contents at Koenig's Art Emporium and Country Willows, ransacked the office at Remembering You on the second level, and apparently left the mall by peeling the lock off the rear delivery door at Sam Goody, a music store.

The Sam Goody outlet at White Marsh was hit in a similar incident on Nov. 20 or 21,according to Officer Joseph Griffin at the county's White Marsh precinct, who helped investigate the incident. He thought one thief hid inside an art store at White Marsh called Deck the Walls, and then pried the security gate up to enter the mall promenade.

The burglars broke into the Sam Goody store at White Marsh and broke open the safe in the same manner as in the Hallmark store at Owings Mills, Officer Griffin said. The Hallmark store at White Marsh also was hit, as was a gift shop that was entered through ceiling tiles from a store above, Officer Griffin said. "They know what they're doing," he said.

Mr. Oakman said several stores at Security Square Mall were broken into last month, but he had no details. He said the mall had two security officers on duty, as did the other two malls, but they didn't hear or see the thieves. He said he heard that malls in Virginia have been hit too.

Kay Muse, marketing director at Owings Mills, said the mall management is investigating the incident to see why the officers on duty didn't see or hear anything.

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