The loot carries an unusual taint. It comes from the dead.
On six occasions since Oct. 13, jewels, watches and even two pairs of hiking boots have been stolen from the city morgue. Most of the items had been stored in a vault for safekeeping after being removed from bodies awaiting autopsies.
Police now say a Baltimore man has been arrested after hidden cameras filmed him opening the safe and taking a fake Rolex watch and $66.57 that belonged to a corpse. On Dec. 29, autopsy assistant David Thomas, 40, of the 700 block of Ryan St., was charged with theft.
Authorities said yesterday that Mr. Thomas has been charged in only one of the thefts but that the investigation was continuing.
"I hope we've sent the message that that type of stuff is not going to be tolerated in this office," said Carl Flemke, the medical examiner's office's chief investigator.
The six thefts reported from Oct. 13 to Dec. 29 included two pairs of boots taken from corpses. In one incident, the boots of a rookie police officer were taken directly from the body while it was being stored in a refrigerated locker, Mr. Flemke said.
Officer Scott Michael Kern, 23, died Oct. 7 in an alcohol-related automobile accident after celebrating his first week on the Baltimore County police force with two other rookie officers. Officer Kern was a passenger in the car.
Officer Kern's body arrived at the medical examiner's office about noon with a pair of purple and tan Nike hiking boots on his feet. The next morning, the doctors made a routine check of the body. The officer's white socks and purple and tan boots were gone.
Stephanie Kern said her husband's boots were special. One month before he died, she had bought the boots at White Marsh Mall. He had been searching for purple hiking boots for several months. Purple was his favorite color, she said. "I kept a lot of things that meant a lot to me," said Mrs. Kern, a 26-year-old White Marsh dental hygienist. "I wish I could have kept those purple boots."
Mrs. Kern never got the boots back. She wasn't the only one with missing boots.
The body of 18-year-old Donte Burnett was found Oct. 10 in the woods near the Dunbar High School athletic field. He had been shot.
The teen-ager's mother said yesterday that he had bought the boots -- his first pair of Timberlands -- on the day before he was shot.
Police say the size-seven boots were reported stolen from the morgue on Nov. 30. They had been stored next to the body in a refrigerated storage area.
Jewel Burnett, his mother, said buying the Timberlands was her son's dream. They were on sale at Mondawmin Mall for $89.95. Despite being two sizes too small, he bought them anyway. "Timberlands are something he always wanted. I told him I couldn't afford to buy them, but I would help him buy them. He got them on his own," said Mrs. Burnett, 41, who lives in East Baltimore. "I never got to see the boots."
Police report that several other items were stolen. They include: a telephone and $3,500 worth of camera equipment belonging to the medical examiner's office and another $16 from a different corpse.
Dr. John E. Smialek, the chief medical examiner, initiated the investigation, Mr. Flemke said.
"Dr. Smialek was very concerned that the integrity of the office had been comprised," Mr. Flemke said. "Dr. Smialek was very concerned because the frequency of the thefts had increased somewhat."
Mr. Flemke said city and state police conducted two weeks of electronic surveillance.
"This was our primary suspect," he said of Mr. Thomas.
Mr. Flemke said Mr. Thomas has given the police a written confession, admitting that he stole the watch and the $66.57, but none of the other items.
Mr. Thomas has been "suspended pending charges of removal," according to Jerry Dziecichowicz, the medical examiner's office's administrative director. A trial is scheduled Feb. 8.
As a result of the thefts, officials at the medical examiner's office are beefing up office security, Mr. Dziecichowicz said.
This week, video and audio cameras are being installed at all entrances and in the parking lot, alarms are being activated, and the combination on the office safe was changed, Mr. Dziecichowicz said. A drop box will be ordered to limit the access of employees to the safe. Security card readers will be installed at every entrance, he said.
"It's not a matter of likes and dislikes or budgets," Mr. Dziecichowicz said. "It's something we need to do."