Police seek woman in series of robberies

Authorities look for woman in her late 20s in a string of convenience store crimes, including four in Md.

November 19, 2005|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

The crimes are bold, but the haul has been modest: A female suspect in a string of convenience store robberies, including four in Maryland, threatens to shoot the clerk before making off with cash, cartons of cigarettes and cheap liquor.

And though the suspect might not be reaping as much as did the woman dubbed the "cell phone bandit" -- who has confessed to robbing four banks in suburban Virginia while chatting on a phone -- the Maryland suspect's bravado and elusiveness have frustrated police.

Authorities are searching for a woman in her late 20s suspected of robbing four convenience stores in Cecil County over the past three weeks, including a High's store in Fair Hill on Sunday. The same woman is suspected of committing two more robberies just outside the state, and another at a Food Lion in North East.

"I think she's a desperate person," said Tfc. Susan Smith of the Maryland State Police. "She's certainly not getting much for the risk she's taking."

Employees at several convenience stores and a grocery store in Cecil County have described their thief as a white woman or a light-skinned black woman between 25 and 30 years old, wearing a dark hooded jacket. Surveillance footage obtained by police confirms the consistencies.

Armed robberies are rare in Cecil, Smith said, but even rarer are female perpetrators. According to federal crime statistics, women account for less than 10 percent of robberies committed in the United States. In convenience store thefts, the percentage is even lower.

Because convenience stores place money in safes, the woman is probably getting between $60 and $150 per robbery, said Christopher McGoey, a California-based security consultant. A larger take at one of the stores might be motivating her to seek another jackpot, he said.

"When you find a serial robbery, it is often because they got lucky a few times and found a lot of money on hand," he said. "Most robbers don't gain access to the safe and settle for just the paper money from the registers."

A similar crime spree came to an end Tuesday when Candice Rose Martinez, 19, of Chantilly, Va., was arrested and admitted to robbing four Wachovia banks between Oct. 14 and Nov. 4, according to news reports. She was seen on surveillance video talking on a cell phone as she carried out the robberies.

But while Martinez is accused of taking tens of thousands of dollars, Maryland State Police say the Cecil suspect is carrying on with a considerably lower profile, targeting small stores early in the morning or late at night.

The first robbery occurred the morning of Oct. 22 at a Food Lion in the 2500 block of Pulaski Highway in North East. Police said a woman walked up to clerks and said, "If you don't want to get hurt, give me the money."

Over the next week, a woman with a similar description robbed three more stores:

At a Perryville 7-Eleven just after midnight Oct. 24, clerk Branden Brown, 23, said the woman set two bottles of MD 20/20 wine on the counter and told him to empty the register.

After Brown handed over $400, she shot him in the face with pepper spray and fled on foot.

The Calvert Country Store in Rising Sun was robbed at 6:45 a.m. Oct. 26 by a woman who indicated that she had a gun.

On Oct. 28, a cashier at a Landhope Farms store in Port Deposit was told she would be shot as she reached for an alarm. The suspect made off with "a couple of cartons of cigarettes and a little bit of cash," a manager told the Cecil Whig.

In the next weeks, the same woman is believed to have robbed a Dunkin' Donuts just east of Cecil in Glasgow, Del., and a Sunoco gas station a few miles north in New London, Pa.

On Sunday, the same suspect appeared to strike again in Maryland. Employees at the High's store in Fair Hill in the 5600 block of Telegraph Road were instructed to get on their knees behind the counter as she made off with cash, police said.

According to police, the suspect in that crime was wearing a bulky black coat with a fur-trimmed hood that was pulled around her face. That matches the description of the outfit that victims gave police in the first two crimes, and all witnesses have described a woman between 5 feet 6 inches and 5 feet 8 inches and about 150 pounds.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Maryland State Police North East Barracks at 410-996-7800.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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