Real estate agents on guard after attack

Suspect in April assault sighted at tours of houses

July 08, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Maryland State Police are searching for a man they think is casing open houses in at least three counties where female real estate agents or employees are working alone.

The man, police said, is the primary suspect in the April assault on a 43-year-old woman who was showing a model home in Eldersburg. Police said she was struck on the head from behind but fended off the attacker, who fled.

Tfc. John Linton of the Westminster barracks said the investigation is focused on a pattern established by the unidentified man, who was seen at another model home less than a mile away minutes before the assault.

When police circulated fliers with a composite sketch of the man to realty associations in Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties, they received several reports that the man had visited open houses in those counties. Last week, police said the suspect was spotted at an open house in Harford County.

Real estate agents said they have exercised more caution since the murder of a female agent 11 years ago. While showing a house in Baltimore's Hunting Ridge neighborhood, Lynne McCoy was robbed, raped and killed by an ex-convict who cased homes before burglarizing them.

The woman in Eldersburg was working for a private developer when the attack occurred.

"It rocks the industry when you hear of incidents like this happening," said Debbie Hager, director of communications for the Maryland Association of Realtors. "We have stepped up our urgency to get the rules of safety out."

The association's 24,000 members will soon receive a brochure on safety that is being developed, Hager said. One section deals exclusively with tips on how to conduct a safe open house.

Women make up more than half of the association's membership, Hager said.

The killing of McCoy "was a wake-up call for all of us," said Ilene Kessler, one of McCoy's close friends and a real estate agent for Remax Advantage in Columbia. "You really don't think about it. You think you're being safe."

As a result of the killing, Kessler never works open houses alone. She also keeps an eye out for suspicious behavior.

The Eldersburg attacker made small talk with his victim, police said, but did nothing else to cause alarm. After the agent left him to wander around the house, she returned to her office. He followed her there and hit her.

State police responded at 12:15 p.m. April 25. They found the woman - whom police described only as an employee of Preakness Homes - at a model home in the 700 block of Old Liberty Road in Eldersburg. The home is part of Preakness' Woodsyde Estates residential development.

The victim said her assailant fled in a late-model green GMC sport utility vehicle. She did not get a tag number.

The woman described her attacker as white, 5 feet 10 inches tall, in his late 40s with blue eyes and short, blond-red hair. She said he had a nickel-size bump on his left cheek and a neatly trimmed beard.

Anyone with information is asked to call state police at the Westminster barracks, 410-386-3000.

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