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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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They were practiced, as if they were members of a drill team

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They were a four-man crime wave.

This is a piece that I wrote to accompany one of Scott Shenk’s stories. Scott has written about the car break-ins that have occurred in the region in recent weeks. His story is scheduled to run this Sunday. This is off the usual topic here, but I hope you find it interesting.


I always look out the second-floor bathroom window when I’m up in the middle of the night. I usually don’t see anything. Last week I did.

About 3:30 a.m. I saw people on the sidewalk in front of the house. I watched as four men approached on foot, one after the other in single file.

When they got to the entrance to the townhouse complex where I live, they turned left into the parking lot. Then, as if on command, they silently split up. Two of them went to one side of the parking lot, and two went to the other side.

The two closest to me split again. One went to a Toyota parked at the corner of the lot, and the other went to the Nissan beside it. I watched as they crouched to try the driver’s-side doors and peer into the cars.

“We’re being robbed!” I blurted.

I put on some shorts and ran downstairs. By the time I got outside, the four of them had reached my house.

“What are you guys doing?” I shouted.

“Partying,” replied one.

“No, you’re breaking into cars. I saw you!”

“Partying,” the same guy repeated.

They were in their early 20s and very calm, unconcerned about me or my allegation. They never stopped walking, headed across the parking lot toward the second entrance at the other end of the complex. They never broke into a run.

A city policeman arrived a few minutes later and checked the cars in our lot. All were locked; none had been disturbed.

When I think about the incident now, I am surprised at how practiced the robbers seemed, as if they were members of a precision drill team.

That weekend and in the days that followed, the city police received a dozen reports of thefts or attempted thefts from cars. Cars were hit on Mortimer Avenue, Maury Street, Prince Edward Street, Mary Ball Street, Hansen Avenue, Cornell Street, Hanover Avenue, Moncure Street and Bright Street.

“Almost all of the vehicles were unlocked and parked in front of the owners’ homes or in their driveways,” wrote Natatia Bledsoe, city police spokeswoman, in her City Police Report blog on  “Most contained some sort of portable item that could easily be sold or bartered for cash or drugs.”

I feel that I saw the people responsible for at least some of these thefts. They were a four-man crime wave.