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Woman, 72, slain in robbery attempt


A 72-year-old woman was shot to death yesterday in a brazen midafternoon robbery attempt outside a Waverly bank, where the woman had just withdrawn a large sum of cash to pay employees of her family-run cleaning business.

Pearl Elizabeth Moffett struggled with the gunman in the parking lot before he shot her in the upper body about 1:30 p.m., police said.

She died moments later on the front seat of her 1987 Chevrolet Blazer.

The unidentified man fled and apparently didn't take any of the money Mrs. Moffett had withdrawn from the NationsBank branch in the 3300 block of Greenmount Ave., about five blocks from Memorial Stadium.

Police would not say precisely how much money was withdrawn, but sources said the sum was less than $2,000.

"She wasn't afraid of anybody or anything. She was a strong-willed person. That's probably why she struggled with the assailant," said Phil Strayer, a family friend and president of the cleaning company that employs Mrs. Moffett and her husband.

Mrs. Moffett lived in the 800 block of Montpelier St. in a tidy rowhouse with a well-kept garden of petunias and carnations in the front yard.

Every Friday she went to the bank, about six blocks away, to make a withdrawal intended for payroll expenses for the cleaning business, Mr. Strayer said.

The employees of the business -- called Maryland Classic -- were routinely paid in cash, Mr. Strayer said.

Police said they don't know whether the gunman selected Mrs. Moffett at random or whether he was lying in wait, knowing she would be leaving the bank with the payroll money.

"She was fairly routine about her trips to the bank, but whether the gunman was aware of that, we don't know," said Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a city police spokesman.

Mrs. Moffett called her husband, Thomas J. Moffett, earlier in the day yesterday to report that she saw three suspicious men near the back yard of her home, according to Mr. Strayer.

Police investigators wouldn't comment on whether those men may have played a role in the attempted robbery.

Mr. Moffett couldn't be reached last night.

Joan Culpepper, one of Mrs. Moffett's neighbors who was at the bank at the time of the shooting and was interviewed most of the day by homicide detectives, said she saw the gunman flee the area in a gray sedan.

"I heard the shot, and I went and I saw her in the car. I went and looked at who it was, I saw the blood on her head, and I ran back and told somebody to call the police, a lady has been shot," Mrs. Culpepper said.

Mrs. Culpepper realized it was probably her neighbor after she recognized the black Blazer Mrs. Moffett usually drove. Shaken, Mrs. Culpepper said, "It's a terrible thing."

Added another neighbor, Anne Garvey: "She was one of the best neighbors you'll ever have. She was a neighborhood person. She kept the neighborhood in good shape."

Police said they located an abandoned gray 1988 Pontiac Bonneville nearby, at Barclay and Camp streets. "We believe that may have been the getaway vehicle," Officer Weinhold said.

The gunman was apparently startled after firing the shot that killed Mrs. Moffett and hurriedly ran from the parking lot, which is adjacent to the bank building in the 500 block of Venable St., police said. In his rush, he left the money behind.

Police said the gunman ran a short distance before getting into a gray car and driving away. He was still being sought last night. They said they did not have a detailed description.

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