Police try to build case in city thefts

Woman accused of using sob story to rob elderly

March 19, 2004|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

Whenever her husband left the house, 72-year-old Marolin Kushnick had reason to worry that she might be burglarized by a woman she knew as Angel.

"She would make sure the car was gone, and then she knew I was all alone," Kushnick said. "When I would open the front door, Angel would run up and push me back in the house and steal whatever she could."

It must have happened 12 or 13 times in broad daylight since 2000, Kushnick estimates.

But she didn't call the police until last year after Angel allegedly snatched a silver soup ladle - a family heirloom. Even then, Kushnick called 911 reluctantly.

"A lot of times, I just let it go. I just didn't want to be the cause of trouble for her. I didn't want to go to court," Kushnick said.

"But I guess I did feel sorry for her and that she couldn't manage her life."

Baltimore police say that Barbara McLeod, who is charged with a burglary last month in Glen, a Northwest Baltimore neighborhood near Pimlico, goes by the name of Angel, along with several other aliases.

McLeod, 37, is free on bail pending an April 2 court date.

McLeod could not be reached for comment. Police Lt. Thomas Cassella said she has no permanent address, and police would not know where to find her.

Police said they are investigating McLeod's possible link to scores of nonviolent home invasion-type robberies and thefts against up to a dozen elderly people in the same neighborhood dating to 1999, including the Kushnicks.

And, like Marolin Kushnick, hardly any of the victims reported the crimes to police, who have gone door to door relying on the memories of mostly older victims to build a case.

Only now that the police are aggressively pursuing an inquiry are some residents realizing the seriousness of the incidents.

Police say a woman was running a scheme on elderly people, knocking on doors and telling a sob story while begging for money, usually $10 or $20.

Once the residents agreed and invited her into their homes to give her cash, she often would steal something more valuable - credit cards, checkbooks or silverware.

"It was a flim-flam this woman was running on senior citizens," said Baltimore police Maj. Marcus Brown. "She would go to the door and convince people to help her.

"She needed money for this or that, she needed a bus pass, she was down on her luck. And she would earn the residents' trust, and they would invite her in. And while she was in, she would take money and other things before she left."

`Charitable people'

And on a few occasions - as in Kushnick's case - the woman pushed her way through the door in what police consider a home-invasion burglary.

"We're a very charitable people," said Marvin Kushnick, 79, Marolin's husband, explaining why the couple took so long to call the police.

"If she comes and says her poor baby doesn't have any milk, well, we wanted to be charitable. Only thing I was afraid of was that she might one day harm my wife."

Glen is a mix of single-family homes and apartment buildings about a mile west of Pimlico Race Course. It is an aging community with senior citizen apartment complexes and day care centers for the elderly.

It is also a mix of cultures, with a particularly heavy concentration of Jewish residents. Many of the city's synagogues are nearby, and it is home to the Weinberg Jewish Community Center.

With so many victims now recounting strikingly similar crimes at the hands of one woman, it would seem that making a case would be easy. But it hasn't been, said Cassella, the police lieutenant.

As it was with the Kushnicks, many of the crimes were never reported.

And now many of the elderly victims are struggling to remember when they encountered the woman or what she looks like - especially since many didn't know immediately they had been robbed.

Still, Cassella is convinced that McLeod is the culprit.

"I know that Barbara did a whole lot of these flim-flams in that area," said Cassella, who is leading the investigation.

"Problem is, a lot of times the victims don't even recognize that they had been flammed. They let her in their house, and before they know it, they actually get hit."

Victim interviews

During interviews with robbery victims, Cassella said he is often referred to someone else down the street or around the corner who might have been burglarized by the same woman months, even a year ago - but never reported it.

Some still don't want police involvement.

"We've been going house to house to house with victim referrals," Cassella said. "It's like putting together a patchwork of crimes."

Cassella said when McLeod was arrested last month, she was accused of stealing several checks belonging to elderly people in Glen.

Police will be asking victims to identify the robber from a photo lineup. And the next person to be asked to make an identification will be Marolin Kushnick.

Kushnick, who said she never felt threatened by her attacker, kept cats on the front porch of her home.

When she would step outside to feed them, the person she knew as Angel would spring from a close-by hiding spot and shove her back into the house, Kushnick said.

In recent years, the Kushnicks' son-in-law installed a panic button and the elderly couple, both retired pharmacists, used two-way radios to keep in touch in case Marolin Kushnick needed help.

Marolin Kushnick cannot recall using the emergency devices.

"I don't know why I never called the police before," Kushnick said. "I guess being soft-hearted can be carried too far and this time it was."

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