Police: Craigslist robbery goes awry as buyer, seller come armed

Bolton Hill incident latest in series of attacks linked to Internet site

June 19, 2012|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

The couple in search of a car found the sedan they wanted for sale on Craigslist for $4,000. They arranged a meeting Monday night on a street in Bolton Hill lined with 19th-century rowhouses.

But Baltimore police said both the seller and the buyer took guns to the transaction. And when one of the men who posted the ad drew his weapon and demanded money from the prospective buyer, police said his female acquaintance pulled her own gun and fired into the air.

The gunman dropped his weapon on Bolton Street and the woman gave chase, "firing her weapon numerous times indiscriminately in the air," said city police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. No one was hit by gunfire, but police said they seized both guns and arrested the victim on weapons charges.

"We understand that this was a terrifying, frightening situation, but when you fire a gun into the air, you become part of the problem," Guglielmi said of the female victim in Monday's Bolton Hill attack. "The best thing to is to be a good witness and call the police."

The two men who tried to rob the couple escaped, and were described only as men in their 20s. City police said the holdup was linked to an earlier attack in which a 20-year-old man and two of his relatives were robbed and assaulted on Laurens Street in West Baltimore, also after answering an ad about a car for sale.

In May, police arrested a man in connection with a separate string of four armed robberies in Northwest Baltimore after they said he posted on Craigslist that he had coins to sell.

The spate of attacks linked to the popular Internet bartering site is prompting new warnings by police, urging people exchanging goods to take precautions. "People are targeting others on Craigslist," Guglielmi said,

The robberies linked to the May arrest all occurred on Callaway Avenue, near Northwest Baltimore's Ashburton neighborhood and on a street with single-family homes and expansive lawns. That location, and the one in Bolton Hill, are areas not prone to crime.

Guglielmi said it appears that robbers are setting up meetings in what appear to be quiet neighborhoods unlikely to raise suspicion. But police said people meeting others off the Internet site need to take even more precautions.

Authorities recommend that meetings take place during the day and in public spots, such as downtown, where there are typically lots of people and surveillance cameras on virtually every block. In Milwaukee, authorities encourage transactions in police station parking lots for added safety.

Police are encouraging buyers to agree to pay only in certified checks issued by banks. "If it's a robbery, the check will be pretty worthless to them," Guglielmi said. "And if they do try to cash it, it will be very easy to trace."

The robbery in Bolton Hill occurred about 8:30 p.m. Police said a man and his female friend answered a Craigslist ad to buy a sedan for $4,000. They talked with the "sellers" several times over the phone, police said, and agreed to meet in the 1600 block of Bolton St.

Police said the couple met with two men and started to talk about the deal when one of the sellers "brandished a silver revolver and pointed it at the woman and demanded money. The male victim struggled with the suspect."

That drew the other "seller" into the fight, Guglielmi said, and prompted the woman "to pull a handgun and fire a shot into the air." The gunman dropped the revolver and ran, leading a chase along Bolton Street with the woman shooting into the air, the police spokesman said.

Police said the attackers escaped with $4,000 but no gun. Police arrested the victim's companion, Keyna Oduyoye, 30, of the 3500 block of Kings Point Road in Randallstown, charging her with two counts of illegal handgun possession and discharging a gun in a public place.

Police said she did not have a permit to carry the weapon. No one answered a call placed to her Baltimore County home.

A Bolton Hill electronic mailing list warned residents of the attack in an email blast Tuesday afternoon. The email, from association president Joe Palumbo, quotes a witness who was sitting on her steps and saw the fight erupt.

The woman said her husband walked toward the men to break up the fracas "when suddenly a woman pointed her gun at the men and fired two shots." She and her husband ran into their house and called police. "Then we heard three more shots even closer to our house," wrote the woman, whose name was not divulged on the email.

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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