Not enough outrage over dirty little crimes theft of hugh doors from courthouse just a whiff of rottenness


I'M NOT SURPRISED that someone stole the doors to Baltimore's courthouse. The courthouse is next -- I expect thieves to walk off with it any day now. Gavels, judges' robes, Bibles and other valuables will turn up at yard sales, flea markets and pawn shops across the nation.

The courthouse doors are solid brass and weigh about 300 pounds each. They're worth about $30,000. Timothy Wilton, the building manager who reported the theft, also believes the courthouse is in jeopardy. "If they can take the doors, they can take the building," he told reporter Peter Hermann.

Years ago, when I worked early morning rewrite for the Evening Sun, I wrote lots of crime stories. I came in at 4: 30 a.m. and immediately began phoning police departments in the Baltimore metropolitan area and across the state. I wrote about robberies, murder and mayhem, but nothing amazed me more than rotten, low-down petty thefts.

Some petty thieves have as much chutzpah as the rats who stole the courthouse doors, but they're satisfied with a lot less. Some get a thrill out of stealing things that are valuable to their owners but no one else. Others steal from friends, churches, children, the elderly, and the disabled. And some steal things you'd never imagine someone would steal. We've all heard stories about the burglar who overlooked money and valuables to steal a kid's piggy bank or the elderly man who was left speechless after someone stole his false teeth.

Dick Irwin has been a police reporter for The Sun for about 11 years, and he covered the crime beat for the News American for 26 years before that.

Dick remembers one particularly stupid thief. This guy was walking along a city street with his clothes bulging. He looked odd enough for the police to order him to stop. As they approached, birds started flying out of his clothes. Turns out the guy had raided a coop and walked off with someone's pet pigeons -- a couple of dozen of them.

One of the rottennest, low-down dirty crimes I can remember happened in 1984, when someone stole an artificial arm from a car parked at the Baltimore Zoo.

The arm belonged to a 13-year-old Pennsylvania boy who visited the zoo with his parents. The custom-made, battery-powered arm cost $5,000. The boy was born without arms.

"He wears it to school and uses it to eat," said the boy's father. "It takes two or three months to make one, so he'll be eating with his foot for a while."

In 1987, three teen-agers stole a wheelchair from a 71-year-old legless man and tossed it into the Inner Harbor. The double amputee and another homeless man had settled down for a night's sleep in a vacant warehouse when the thieves struck. Police used a grappling hook to recover the wheelchair from the bottom of the harbor.

Here are some more rotten, low-down, dirty crimes recently reported by city police:

* Several exotic fish, valued at $200, were stolen from a fish pond in the back yard of a house in the 100 block of W. 39th St.

* A 220-pound safe containing more than $1,000 was stolen from an apartment in the 400 block of Laurens St.

* A homeless man stole a 13-inch TV, a video cassette recorder and a hand truck valued at nearly $600 from a house in the 400 block of W. Saratoga St., the home of a man who had given shelter to the suspect.

A homeless man stole a 12-gauge shotgun, television video games, stereo speakers, and a compact disc player, all valued at $400, from a house in the 3900 block of Annellen Road, the home of a woman who had befriended him.

A female client in a drug treatment program in the 100 block of Sutton Place allegedly stole a counselor's jacket, $200 in cash and his paycheck. The suspect pretended to be sick, and stole the items while the counselor went to get medicine for her.

A 12-year-old was robbed of $3 by a gunman in the 5500 block of York Road.

A South American golden macaw of unknown value was stolen from the Animal and Bird Hospital in the 9600 block of Reisterstown Road.

A burglar stole cash from the John Wesley United Methodist Church in the 3200 block of W. North Ave.

Stereo equipment valued at $400 was stolen from Emmanuel Temple Gospel Church in the 4100 block of Reisterstown Road.

A gunman stole 55 cents from a teen-age boy and struck him in the head with the weapon in the 3200 block of W. Belvedere Ave.

Police were seeking a man who, while a guest of a resident in the 700 block of E. 41st street, stole a 19-inch television valued at nearly $300 and a videocassette recorder valued at more than $150.

Someone stole an electric heater valued at $50 from a house in the 3200 block of Clifton Avenue, and caused $200 damage breaking in to get it.

Now the theft of the courthouse doors outraged Sheriff John W. Anderson, who described it as an "affront to the citizens of Baltimore." He added: "Whoever took the doors, we are going to find them. We are going to arrest them. We are going to prosecute them. These are the type of people we need to remove from society for a long, long time."

It's hard to overlook the symbolism of the theft of the courthouse doors. Someone walked off with a valuable icon of the criminal justice system. Sure, the sheriff should be outraged, we all should. But what about the victims of rotten, low-down dirty crimes? Who's expressing outrage for them?

Media coverage generated outpourings of sympathy for the boy whose artificial arm was stolen and the homeless man whose wheelchair was dumped into the harbor. But most victims of petty crime go unnoticed, like the congregation at John Wesley United Methodist Church and the owner of the exotic fish stolen from the backyard pool. In most cases, the police write a report and the crime falls into a black hole. The victims know that there is virtually no chance their property will be recovered.

And what's worse, no one seems to care but them.

8, Mike Adams is the editor of Perspective.

Pub Date: 4/06/97

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