String of rapes hits Mount Vernon

November 11, 2008|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,justin.fenton@baltsun.com

Residents in the Mount Vernon area have been put on alert after a string of rapes and burglaries over the past several weeks in which a man gained entry through unlocked windows, sometimes after climbing up fire escapes, with a Maryland Institute College of Art student among the victims.

Neighborhood groups and area institutions, such as the University of Baltimore and MICA, began issuing warnings late last week, and police have added patrol officers to the area. Composite sketches of possible suspects are circulating in the community, urging residents to call police with any information.

Police are exploring similarities between as many as six recent sexual assaults, including one that occurred in Charles Village in July, and a number of burglaries.

"There hasn't been a ground-floor [attack] so far," said Lt. Dorsey McVicker Jr., who has visited more than 100 apartments warning residents in hopes of preventing further incidents as police search for the assailant. "He's climbing up the fire escapes and entering through third- and second-story windows. This predator is coming in and finding women sleeping."

The attacks come amid a jump in violent crimes and break-ins across the Central District, which includes Bolton Hill, Reservoir Hill, Mount Vernon and the Inner Harbor. Though property crimes have fallen 7 percent, compared with the same period last year, violent incidents - including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assaults - have jumped 6 percent. As of Nov. 1, residential burglaries had risen 10 percent, and sex offenses and rapes were up.

Paul Warren, vice president of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association, said break-ins remain rare in the neighborhood. But he said the incidents are a reminder for residents to secure their homes and be cautious.

"As an urban community, I think we're pretty sophisticated about crime. Then again, this is a real anomaly," Warren said. "We don't have this kind of crime in Mount Vernon. ... Perhaps we've not been as on-guard as we should be."

Earlier in the year, a rash of sexual assaults in Charles Village, about a half-mile north of Mount Vernon, stoked similar fears. A 44-year-old man was charged in May with the rape of a woman at gunpoint after she returned home from a grocery store.

Police have compiled two composite sketches based on interviews with victims, and detectives from the sexual offense and burglary units are comparing notes to determine whether the incidents are linked, said Officer Troy Harris, a Baltimore police spokesman.

In the Mount Vernon incidents, a man gained entry through unlocked windows and forced intercourse, in some cases implying that he had a gun, McVicker said. The attacker of attackers have also taken items, including a "distinctive piece of jewelry" from one residence. Most of the incidents have occurred between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. One woman was able to fend off her attacker, who fled through a window, McVicker said.

A Police Department official who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the news media said three of the rapes occurred Sept. 29 in the 1200 block of St. Paul St., Oct. 29 in the 1200 block of N. Calvert St. and Thursday in the 900 block of St. Paul St. - a stretch that is mostly residential. Another rape, which is not believed to be connected, occurred Sept. 16 in the rear of the 500 block of Cathedral St.

Mikhael Williams, a MICA spokeswoman, confirmed that a female student was recently raped in Mount Vernon.

The Central District is the only one in the city not to share in Baltimore's significant decrease in homicides this year. Robberies, burglaries, rapes and minor sex offenses are also spiking in the area.

McVicker said that as he walked the neighborhood, he was surprised to learn from residents that many do not lock their windows or are unable to do so because of old locks and latches.

"At the very least, they could put a two-by-four up on top of the window, and they'd be fine," he said.

Anyone with information is urged to call 911 or the Central District at 410-396-2411.

Baltimore Sun reporter Annie Linskey contributed to this article.

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