Tourists held up near Poe house Armed teens enter parked bus, rob passengers of cash

November 06, 1995|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

A Halloween-themed tour of Baltimore was scarier than expected for a group of tourists Saturday morning.

Eight visitors on an excursion sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution were in a bus parked near the Edgar Allan Poe house in West Baltimore when two armed teen-age boys -- one wearing a fluorescent green mask -- boarded the bus and robbed them.

"They came on the bus with their weapons drawn and told us to get our wallets out and hands up," said Maureen Schaerfl, 53, of Rockville. The robbers didn't ask her husband, Robert, 60, for his wallet, and she kicked her purse under the seat out of their view, she said.

The youths -- each armed with a semiautomatic handgun -- boarded the bus and robbed eight of the 12 passengers of $800 in cash and possessions, said Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a Baltimore police spokesman.

The tour, called "Baltimore: In the Spirit of Halloween and Harvest," had attracted about 30 people. But because the 2 1/2 -story Poe home is too small to accommodate so many people at once, 12 stayed on the bus to await their turn. The bus -- with its door open -- was parked in the 900 block of W. Lexington St., around the corner from the brick house.

Fifteen tourists were inside the museum and unaware that the others were being robbed, Mr. Weinhold said. The youths fled the scene on foot. No arrests were made and no one was injured, he said.

The driver of the bus from the Glenelg-based Eyre Bus and Travel Inc. called 911 with his two-way radio after the robbery, witnesses said.

Jeff Jerome, Poe House curator for 17 years, said the armed robbery was the first major crime at the museum. "It was a crime of opportunity. The bus driver left the door open," he said. "I just threw my hands in the air and wondered what to do with people with no common sense."

The tour group left the Smithsonian at 9 a.m. Saturday. They arrived at Poe House, where the writer lived early in his career, an hour later for their first stop of the day-long tour. The robbery occurred around 11 a.m.

"Many of the people in the neighborhood came up to the house and expressed their outrage after they heard of the robbery," Mr. Jerome said. "We don't have problems with tourists being bothered at Poe House."

Built in 1830, the Poe House at 203 N. Amity St. has about 4,000 visitors a year, Mr. Jerome said.

But Mr. Schaerfl, 60, said the incident raises questions of security and safety for Baltimore's tourists.

The robbery "was too easy for broad daylight," Mr. Schaerfl said. "I've been to Baltimore a lot over the years and it astounds me that people on a bus could be robbed. The individual tourist would be even more vulnerable."

Although the group decided to continue with the day-long tour -- visiting Greenmount Cemetery, Lexington Market, Bertha's Dining Room and other spots -- Mrs. Schaerfl said she has "very negative feelings about Baltimore."

Mr. Schaerfl agreed. "It was my first time at Poe house and my last," he said.

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