Lookout pleads guilty in robbery

Accomplice helped a pair of armed men rob Columbia grocery

`Something out of Hollywood'

May 20, 1999|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Late one winter night, two men entered a Columbia supermarket and quickly hid, waiting for closing time. They'd done this many times before. They knew what they were after -- cash, and lots of it.

About 9: 30 p.m., they donned ski masks and headed toward the cash registers and front office, where they drew handguns and confronted four employees, who were cleaning and counting receipts.

One robber ordered a clerk to heap dollar bills into a plastic bag, then pointed his gun at the assistant manager's head. Open the safe, he demanded.

An accomplice of the robbers pleaded guilty yesterday in Howard County Circuit Court. The robbers have pleaded guilty and were sentenced last week for that supermarket robbery and several others in Carroll, Harford, Frederick and Montgomery counties. The cases were consolidated in Howard.

A circuit judge sentenced John C. Klinglehofer, 31, to 20 years in prison and Larry L. Hall, 26, to 17 years.

In her court appearance yesterday, the accomplice, Valerie L. Wolf, 26, pleaded guilty to robbing the Valu Food Supermarket in Columbia on Jan. 11, 1998.

All the robberies were meticulously planned. The ringleader, Klinglehofer, cased the stores, authorities said, and sometimes called police to determine response times.

He also made detailed maps, officials said, marking each store with escape routes, and programmed police scanners to local frequencies.

Toward the end of the spree, prosecutors said, the two men enlisted the help of Wolf, who monitored police scanners and kept the robbers informed over walkie-talkies.

Hall and Klinglehofer stole more than $100,000 in robberies, authorities said, from January 1997 through the final robbery of Columbia's Valu Food on Guilford Road.

"This was something out of Hollywood," said prosecutor Bernard L. Taylor. "The robberies were very well planned, much more so than the average robbery."

Wolf declined to comment yesterday. Her attorney, Vince Guida, said Wolf "had no involvement with weapons."

Wolf is scheduled to be sentenced in July.

During his sentencing, Hall apologized. "I get sick to my stomach when I think about what I did," he said.

Klinglehofer's attorney did not return calls for comment.

According to court records, the Columbia robbery was much like the holdups of other stores.

Judy Estes was a clerk that night, when the robbers stormed the store and ordered the employees into the office. They ordered her to pile money into plastic bags, though her hands were trembling so badly she could barely handle the cash.

Suddenly, the robbers' walkie-talkies came to life with a woman's voice reporting that police were patrolling nearby.

The robbers told everyone to get down, and one robber spoke calmly into the walkie-talkie. "Just keep your cool," he said.

A few moments passed until the woman called again -- the police were gone -- and one robber told Estes to keep putting money into the bags. He pointed his gun at the manager's head. The manager kept his composure and convinced the robbers he couldn't open the safe.

As the robbers ordered the employees to lie on the floor, face down, and put their hands behind their backs, Estes remembers thinking she was going to die.

"We all thought we were going to be shot right there," she said.

Instead, the robbers handcuffed the male clerk and the assistant manager and herded the group toward the store's storage area, where the robbers had hidden earlier.

They locked the employees in a small room filled with electrical equipment and told them to stay for half an hour -- they would be monitoring police channels, they said, and would return to hurt them if they tried to escape too soon.

The robbers pushed heavy wooden pallets filled with firewood against the door and fled with about $13,500. Eventually, an employee smashed through the plaster wall with a fire extinguisher. They called police.

The robbers wore gloves, leaving no fingerprints, and masks, disguising their faces. Police had few clues.

A few days later, Howard County detectives got a phone call -- Baltimore County police were investigating a home-invasion robbery and said the resident was suspected of robbing the Valu Food.

The same night that robbers struck Valu Food, Taylor said, intruders raided Hall's Baltimore County home, evidently looking for large amounts of cash.

Hall's girlfriend was there that night and told police everything -- that her boyfriend robbed grocery stores with his friend.

Police quickly questioned Hall, who admitted to the robbery in Columbia and several others. They searched his home, finding a 9 mm handgun, black gloves, a black mask, a black hood and a black coat, as well as a set of handcuffs.

Hall soon turned on Klinglehofer and Wolf. They had been former co-workers at a supermarket in Elkridge.

At Klinglehofer's Crofton home, police discovered black clothing, guns, gun cases, ammunition, handcuffs, black ski masks, scanners, three two-way radios and road maps of Howard County, Northern Virginia, southern Pennsylvania and counties in Central Maryland. The Howard map showed the Valu Food store marked -- with handwritten arrows showing escape routes.

Klinglehofer pleaded guilty to robbing supermarkets in Mount Airy, Westminster, Damascus, Bel Air and Columbia. He pleaded guilty to twice trying to rob a Hampstead supermarket.

Hall pleaded guilty to robbing supermarkets in Brunswick, Westminster, Damascus, Bel Air and Columbia. He pleaded guilty to trying to rob the Hampstead store once.

Pub Date: 5/20/99

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