The man in the tan jacket and hood seen emerging from Doris Dodge's West Friendship home is accused of stealing a pile of jewelry worth $3,700, including a diamond ring, a gold wedding band and a sapphire stone.
But it was Dodge's $50 high school class ring from 1971, her initials engraved in the side, that meant the most to her.
Police say it was that very ring from Terra Alta High School in West Virginia that helped lead detectives to the suspects — a husband-and-wife team charged in connection with a string of burglaries that has heightened fears in the rural western reaches of Howard County.
Court documents filed Tuesday say the ring with Dodge's initials "DJD" was pawned at a shop on Baltimore National Pike in Catonsville hours after the burglary. Police said the man who sold the heirloom gave the pawnbroker his driver's license and home address.
"I'm relieved that two people got caught," the 57-year-old Dodge said. "But I know it's not personal. The jewelry is worth a lot of money, but my treasures are not stored on this earth." Two items had sentimental value — her ring and her high school Hilltoppers "peace sign" that was part of a charm bracelet.
Police said their suspects followed a similar pattern in three subsequent break-ins — two in Marriottsville and one in Cooksville. Each time, police said, they traced an item linked to a burglary, such as a television and a gold charm, to a pawn shop.
Authorities have charged Edward James Johnson, 28, and his wife, Robin Renee Johnson, 27, with burglary and theft. The husband, in jail awaiting trial, faces charges in connection with four burglaries; his wife, who has been released on bail, is charged in connection with one break-in.
Howard County police say they are investigating as many as six more burglaries in the area to determine if they can be linked. Edward Johnson has an extensive criminal record that includes convictions in Howard and Carroll counties for theft and burglary, and he's on probation until 2015. The suspects each gave police different addresses, though it appears they live in Mount Airy.
Dodge's rental house on Rover Mill Road was broken into Feb. 24. Police said in charging documents that the owner, a school bus driver, nearly caught the burglar. She came home and saw a dark-colored car parked near her driveway, its emergency flashers on. She reported seeing a man wearing dark pants, tan jacket and a hood over his face come from a porch of a house she rents to Dodge, and get into the car, which sped off.
Police said the front door of the house Dodge lives in had been forced open and jewelry was taken from the master bedroom. Dodge said a laptop computer and assorted electronic gadgets in the living room were not disturbed.
Dodge said she inventoried the missing items and, in addition to notifying police, sent her own list to pawn shops to put them on alert. Pawn and second-hand shops are required to record names and addresses of people selling items, and must provide lists of all daily transactions to police, who routinely check against items reported stolen.
Other burglaries followed.
•On March 3, jewelry and electronic items worth more than $800 were taken from a home on Thompson Drive in Marriottsville. Police said a 32-inch Insignia television set was sold to County Pawnbrokers in Catonsville the same day.
•On March 4, jewelry, including a snowflake necklace and a turquoise bracelet, was stolen from a house on Driver Road in Marriottsville. Police said that the jewelry was sold to Smyth Jewelers in Ellicott City and that the victim identified her pieces from evidence photographs. Police charged Johnson's wife in connection with this burglary and alleged that she helped sell the items at the store.
•On March 10, police said, a gold charm bracelet was taken from a house on Frederick Road in Cooksville. Police said the $100 charm was pawned several days later at the Jewelry Hut in Woodlawn.
Only a few stolen items have been recovered, and Dodge described the events as worrisome but not catastrophic. Most troubling is the fear — a violation of personal space, Dodge said — "in a home that was supposed to be safe."