Courthouse theft no open-shut case 300-pound, solid brass doors disappear in the middle of night

March 26, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

They've stolen the doors to the city's courthouse.

Weighing in at 300 pounds each and worth $30,000 apiece, the solid brass doors were carted away in the dark of night from a side entrance where they have been since 1932.

The thievery sent city police scurrying to antique auctions, secondhand shops and scrap metal dealers throughout Baltimore and even to the Eastern Shore.

"If they can take the doors, they can take the building," said a perplexed Timothy Wilton, a building maintenance manager who reported the theft.

In a city where it is common for thieves to steal ornate window grates, gas lamps and bronze escutcheons and pawn them for fistfuls of cash, taking the courthouse doors, police say, has gone too far.

"It's an affront to the citizens of Baltimore City," said an angry Sheriff John W. Anderson, who offered a stern warning to those responsible. "Whoever took the doors, we are going to find them. We are going to arrest them. We are going to prosecute them. These are the type of people we need to remove from society for a long, long time."

A sheriff's deputy and two police officers assigned to the state's attorney's office are investigating the theft, which occurred March 13 after the downtown building at Calvert and Lexington streets, known as the old federal post office, had been closed for the night.

The police officer who took the initial report wrote that "this was apparently an inside job."

Investigators believe it took someone with a key, a truck and a lot of help to pull off the theft.

"There are a lot of questions here," Anderson said. "We're going to find them. We're going to put heat on them. Somebody is going to talk."

The brass doors were taken off their hinges on March 13 by a private contractor who was hired to install new doors to permit access for the disabled. One of the brass doors was headed to storage; the other was to replace an aging door at the Calvert Street entrance.

But the hour got late that Thursday evening, and the brass doors were left in a hallway, to be moved to a more secure location the next day. At 6: 10 p.m., sheriff's deputies were sent home, replaced by a single security guard responsible for patrolling the 6-story, 20,000-square-foot building.

That guard reported seeing the doors at 6: 30 p.m. At 11 p.m., he reported the doors missing. But whom he reported it to is a mystery. Wilton said he noticed the doors were gone when he came to work at 8 a.m. the next day, March 14. But the police say they weren't called until 4 p.m. that day. To make matters worse, the contractors replacing the doors had disconnected the alarm system and television surveillance cameras.

Detective David E. Manning said he doesn't think anyone could pawn the doors. He said the thieves will probably cut them up for scrap. He and another detective even traveled last week to Crumpton, in Queen Anne's County, scouting antique auctions. They had no luck.

Police said they are questioning security guards, employees for the contractor that installed the new door and anyone else who might be involved.

While the stolen doors -- plain with modest decoration -- are not like the ornate bronze doors adorned with gargoyles on the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse across the street, officials say the missing ones have historical value.

"We definitely want them back," said Joseph H. H. Kaplan, the administrative judge of the Baltimore Circuit Court, who, when asked if he had anything to say to the culprits, quietly said, "Return them."

Pub Date: 3/26/97

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