Nadine Henard takes little solace in statistics that show burglaries decreasing. After burglars stole her computer, printer and portable stereo one recent afternoon, the 49-year-old slept that night with her .357-caliber Magnum.
"You really feel invaded, insecure in your home," said Henard, who lives on Marriottsville Road in western Howard County. "Out in the country, you have the tendency to let your guard down."
Henard will get her belongings back, thanks to quick-thinking relatives who were driving by her house July 3 and interrupted the burglary. They followed the suspected thief's car and alerted police, who eventually pulled the car over and arrested the driver.
Such good luck doesn't usually befall detectives working burglary cases -- some of the most difficult crimes to solve.
"There is no motive. In homicides, you have an ex-girlfriend, family member or spouse," said Sgt. George Belleville, a property crimes supervisor. "You can ask who would want to kill that person. You cannot ask that question in a burglary."
Statistics show a steady drop in Howard County burglaries during the first three months of 1998, when police reported 292, an 18 percent decrease from the 355 reported during the same period last year.
Yet a series of hard-to-solve burglaries across the county, from western Howard homes to Columbia office buildings, is keeping police busy.
Detectives believe the same thieves are responsible for 34 burglaries of businesses in the Dobbin Road corridor of east Columbia from December through May. Police are investigating four burglaries of offices in the Dorsey Hall Professional Park north of Route 108 during the past 30 days and six of pharmacies in eastern Howard County since August.
Detectives also believe a dozen home burglaries during the past few months in western Howard, Ellicott City and Elkridge were committed by another group.
But promising leads -- from surveillance photographs to suspects becoming witnesses -- do not always pan out. Police say only about 20 percent of Howard County burglaries are solved.
Often, detectives work from recovered merchandise to identify suspects, or catch them in the act. But unlike the movies, where cat burglars prowl through homes with flashlights, thieves strike quickly.
In the Dobbin Road corridor earlier this year, burglars did just that.
One May morning, despite blaring alarms, thieves hit a row of automotive businesses on Berger Road in just minutes. After twisting off the locks at Meineke Discount Mufflers, the thieves stole about $90 and ripped the alarm box from the wall.
"If they're going to hit you, there's only so much you can do," said John LaPlant, the store's manager. "You can only make your fortress so impenetrable."
At the Second Edition book store in the 6400 block of Dobbin Road, a co-owner was surprised when the front-door lock fell into her hands one day in December as she was opening the store.
The night before, thieves twisted the lock and stole about $430 in cash from an envelope under the counter.
Police suspect the same ring was involved in the 34 Dobbin Road-area thefts because burglars twisted off locks and committed their crimes during similar hours. Detectives also said the group has likely operated in Montgomery and Harford counties.
"There were certain little nuances at crime scenes that were the same in all three counties," said Detective Frank Mort, who's investigating that series.
Four recent thefts from businesses in the Dorsey Hall area were likely committed by the same burglars, who stole computer and electronics equipment, said Cpl. Ellsworth Jones, a property crimes investigator.
But even if authorities have suspects, charging them with crimes can be tough because property vanishes quickly in second-hand and pawn shops. Sometimes, even a photograph of the alleged burglar doesn't help. Police received dozens of tips after television stations aired pictures taken by surveillance cameras of a pharmacy burglar.
"When you get calls about a guy riding the No. 6 bus in the city, that doesn't help," Jones said. "It takes a lot of work sifting through those tips."
Pub Date: 7/13/98