Police look at stickup spree

Man is sought in N. Baltimore robbery string

July 07, 2006|By GUS G. SENTEMENTES AND CHRIS YAKAITIS | GUS G. SENTEMENTES AND CHRIS YAKAITIS,SUN REPORTERS

Baltimore police are searching for a man who they believe is responsible for a spree of brazen home invasions, armed robberies and carjackings that have occurred over the past two months targeting residents in North Baltimore neighborhoods.

Armed with a handgun and wearing a mask or a do-rag to conceal his identity, the robber has typically accosted people in or near their homes at night, sometimes in inclement weather, and entered residences through unlocked doors, police said.

In some cases, the man -- described by police and witnesses as shifting between polite and threatening -- has forced victims into their cars, ordered them to drive to nearby ATMs and withdraw cash, and then dropped them off in other city neighborhoods.

In one of the more daring robberies, the man held four women at gunpoint for more than an hour inside their Guilford home last month. The occupants said he then forced one to walk in driving rain to a bank machine and a grocery store to get cash, while he threatened her roommates with a gun.

The break-ins and bold stickups have set off a ripple of fear across neighborhoods such as Guilford, Charles Village and Ednor Gardens.

A college professor who lives in Guilford said he was held up at gunpoint near his home, forced to take off his pants and then ordered to drive to a bank machine in Charles Village. After giving the robber more than $1,200 in cash, the victim said he was dropped off in Reservoir Hill about 11 p.m.

"It frightened the hell out of me," said Richard W. Bourne, 63, a law professor at the University of Baltimore. "I don't think he wants to hurt anybody, but he's playing with fire. He's going to kill somebody or he's going to get killed."

Police have been busy responding to residents' concerns and are drawing up plans to catch the man, which they declined to discuss yesterday.

Maj. Michael Pristoop, commander of the Northern District, said one man is believed to be linked to at least five incidents in his district and one in the Northeast. Detectives are also investigating the possibility that the man might be connected to several armed robberies in the Central District, mainly in the Bolton Hill area, Pristoop said.

"We're deploying maximum resources in an effort to prevent further incidents," Pristoop said. He said it is possible that the man is a drug addict in need of cash to fuel his habit. The man told a carjacking victim in Charles Village this week that he needed the money for drugs, police said.

"What we're hoping is that citizens who know their community the best will see something out of place, either a person or car, or see suspicious behavior from a person that they do not recognize, and that they will call the police," Pristoop said.

Will Gibson, a vice president of the Oakenshawe Improvement Association, said he has not seen a crime wave on this scale since he moved to the neighborhood in 1994. "It's happened fast, all within the past month and a half," he said. "It has been kind of shocking."

One of the earliest incidents, police believe, occurred May 30 on St. Martins Road in Guilford, where a woman was robbed at gunpoint. Later that day, police believe the same man confronted a couple about a half-mile away in Ednor Gardens, a neighborhood east of Guilford. The man forced the couple, who live in the 3600 block of Kimble Road, to drive to an ATM and withdraw cash, and then stole their car, police said.

Police said they believe that the man struck again more than three weeks later. On June 25, police said, he robbed Bourne about 9 p.m., just as a major rainstorm began to buffet the Baltimore area. Bourne said he surrendered two billfolds before being told to drive in his underwear to the Bank of America drive-through ATM in Charles Village.

The next night, again in the rain, police said, the man walked into a Guilford home through an unlocked door and held up four women at gunpoint for more than an hour.

Two days later, on June 28, police said, he surprised a Loyola College student as he walked back to his condominium in North Baltimore's Homeland neighborhood. At gunpoint, the man forced the student to surrender money and other personal effects, according to police.

Then, on Tuesday evening and early the next day, police said, the man might have committed two robberies at gunpoint. The first occurred about 11:50 p.m. in Charles Village. A woman who parked her car in an alley in the 3000 block of St. Paul St. was accosted at gunpoint by a man who wore a mask. He forced her into her car and ordered her to drive to the Bank of America ATM two blocks away -- the same one used in the robbery of Bourne -- and withdraw cash. He then dropped her off in downtown Baltimore and kept her car, police said.

Police said they are investigating the possibility that the man might have committed another armed robbery in the same vicinity early the next day, after he dropped the woman off.

Victims said they're disturbed by the frequency of the crimes, which seem to have accelerated in the past two weeks. Bourne said he was stunned that the man would invade a home a few doors down from his the next night.

"If he's doing that many robberies, then he has a drug problem or he owes somebody some money, or both," Bourne said. "Or he's just compulsive and madder than a hatter."gus.sentementes@baltsun.com chris.yakaitis@baltsun.com

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