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Missing-escutcheon mystery a puzzler no more, police say


Baltimore police say they've solved the Bolton Hill doorplate mystery.

Someone had been stealing ornate doorplates and doorknobs from Victorian homes along Eutaw Place and Park Avenue. Last Friday, a man sold the pieces to an antiques dealer for $40.

"He spoke well, and didn't appear to be an idiot by any means," said the dealer, Barr Harris of Harris Auction Galleries on Howard Street. "He brought in a carton of about 13 plates. I [thought] they would bring about $15 or $20 apiece."

As a matter of routine, Mr. Harris photocopied the man's driver's license before purchasing the carton and its contents for $40.

Three days later, Mr. Harris read in The Sun that a thief had been unscrewing the fancy brass door fixtures from homes in Bolton Hill. The so-called "escutcheon thief" -- a title stemming from the proper name for the doorplates -- had caused uneasiness throughout the neighborhood. Mr. Harris, himself a Bolton Hill resident, called police.

Detective David Manning said yesterday that he is seeking a warrant to bring a charge of theft. He described the suspect as 34 years old and from Baltimore, with a prior arrest record.

"We think he was stealing these things to cash in on a quick buck," the detective said.

Police are still trying to track down the owners of the escutcheons, some of which could be worth up to $500.

"We're asking anyone in Bolton Hill who is missing their plate or knob to contact us," said Detective Manning, who has 13 plates and three doorknobs in his evidence box. So far, he's found two owners.

"I went around the neighborhood today myself and tried to match the rest to doors. But a lot of people weren't home," he said.

"They're doing the real detective work by trying to match the plates to the doors," said J. Ripley Miller, a computer consultant whose doorplate was stolen last week. "It won't be easy."

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