Confusion and consternation over attacks in the Mount Vernon area

BALTIMORE CRIME BEAT

November 20, 2008|By PETER HERMANN

With every meeting and every statement from Baltimore police, we learn new and conflicting information about a series of rapes in Mount Vernon.

Now we're hearing that not all the rapes occurred in that one historic neighborhood. At least one might have occurred as far away as Bolton Hill, which is really not that far away.

"There are not six rapes in Mount Vernon," Maj. John Bailey, the commander of the Central District, told about 30 members of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Community Association on Tuesday night.

The Police Department hasn't made public the precise locations of the attacks, which officials said started back in July, so determining the geographic boundaries of the predator has been rather difficult.

Police mentioned four addresses at the meeting. Attacks in the 900 block of St. Paul St. and the 500 block of Cathedral St. are in Mount Vernon. Attacks in the 1200 blocks of St. Paul and Calvert streets are in neighboring Mid-Town Belvedere. The dividing line seems pointless, considering that the rapes are blocks apart in a confined area north of downtown.

Bailey addressed the community group with three colleagues, including a lieutenant and a sergeant from the sex offense unit.

He told the residents, "We have a sense of urgency." He said he has detailed six officers in plainclothes to work the Mount Vernon streets from 4 p.m. to 6 a.m. to gather intelligence.

"They are stopping people and interviewing people," Bailey said, adding that names are being kept and backgrounds checked. "We are finding a lot of people with criminal records out walking around. Is that against the law? Absolutely not. But we are making sure that they know that we know who they are."

Bailey said detectives believe that two of the six attacks are linked. Those occurred within days on St. Paul Street. In both cases, police said, a man climbed a fire escape and entered second-story apartments through unlocked windows.

The rape on Cathedral Street occurred during the day, and the victim was a homeless person attacked in an alley. Bailey said it doesn't fit the pattern of the other two. In at least one other attack, the one on North Calvert Street, Bailey said the victim's account contains inconsistencies. The locations and details of the other rapes were not divulged.

Residents at the meeting peppered Bailey and the other officers about why it took so long for police to notify the public. Police used a computer to call and warn residents of the attacks, but one woman said the recording was inaudible. A neighbor of one of the rape victims complained she didn't know about the attack until two weeks after it had occurred.

This investigation has been marked by incomplete and untimely information from the start. Two sketches have been released of two potential suspects, but police revealed Tuesday that neither one is based on information from the rape victims.

One drawing is of a burglar who has been hitting homes in Charles Village but also might have reached down into Mount Vernon. The other sketch came from one of about 200 people interviewed by Lt. Dorsey McVicker - a woman who told him she confronted a man coming into her apartment from a fire escape and scared him away.

Residents are scared and frustrated. Detectives have to protect their investigations, but they also have a duty to ensure that the public feels protected. Police told them that the information and the reports about the attacks are public, but the news media hasn't even been given the addresses of where they occurred.

Police did give out a warning that should be taken seriously. McVicker said that of the hundreds of people he talked to in Mount Vernon, only three had windows that locked on upper stories - even windows accessible from fire escapes. Of the rapist, he said, "We think he knows that."

ONLINE

Talk with Peter Hermann about crime via the Baltimore Crime Beat blog, at baltimoresun.com/crime

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