The big mystery in our Westside neighborhood is how the pre-dawn burglar, who has hit 15 houses, so unerringly finds his chosen victims-- older women living alone in single story homes. He’s been working the area since late May.
The Los Angeles Police Department has a task force assigned to the burglaries and says there are at least 30 officers working the investigation at any given time.
Crimes often tell something about a neighborhood, and these are no exception.
Although the Westside has grown to mean affluence, conspicuous consumption and rude drivers tearing through boulevards and streets in their SUVs, some of the area reflects an older, more modest and largely forgotten way of life.
Before and after World War II, single story, fairly modest homes were built on the flatlands south of Santa Monica Boulevard from Sepulveda eastward toward the Cheviot Hills-Rancho city park. Young families moved in. Children grew up there and eventually moved away. Today, while new two story homes are changing the neighborhood, many of the old one-story homes remain. Older women, often widows, live in some of them, gardening, visiting, keeping up a slower and lonelier version of a life pattern they and their families established many years ago.
These are the victims. In all but one case, the burglar entered the home between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. He enters through locked and unlocked windows. He appears at his victims’ bedside and says give me your valuables or I’ll kill you. He goes through every door and closet looking for valuables. He picks on the old and the weak, those least likely to resist. He carries a flashlight and screwdriver and wears dark clothing, dark gloves and ski mask. Victims describe him as an African American man, about six feet tall and weighting between 200 and 220 pounds.
The mystery is frightening and intriguing. How does he know his victim is an older woman living alone? How does he know she has enough possessions to make a burglary worthwhile?
He’s a pro, police say, and familiar with the neighborhood. How did he learn about the neighborhood? Does he live in the area? Did he become familiar with the homes by working for one of the fund raising groups who send frequently send people door to door? Could he be someone who blends in so well that we never give him a second look—a postman, a paramedic or even someone whose job it is to protect the neighborhood?
Or does he work with one of the utilities that serve the neighborhood? We had a couple of such workers who spent a long time in our house one day, going through every room looking for the source of the problem, which they never found. Soon after their visit we were burglarized and lost a couple of computers plus jewelry. We were away from the house a short time. The burglars worked speedily and knowledgeably. Several weeks later, a family nearby had exactly the same experience—a visit from the same utility and days later a burglary.
In the current case, the police seem to give some credence to the roaming charity or utility worker theory. After a briefing by the LAPD, the Westwood South of Santa Monica Homeowners Association e-mailed a “crime update” with a number of warnings, including “Do not open your door to a stranger. If someone claims to be from a utility or other agency, ask for photo ID.”
The break-ins have people on the Westside, especially the elderly, on edge. The eeriest part is that in this most anonymous of cities someone knows so much about where these women live and what they have in their homes.