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Quick-Moving Robbers Finding Easy Targets : Crime: Three gunmen burst in through unlocked or easily broken doors, then tie up victims with phone cords and ransack the house. The scenario has been occurred eight times in the past month.


THE REGION — Two young women were relaxing in their Monterey Park home late on a recent night, watching television with their front door open to catch a cool breeze.

Suddenly, three armed men yanked on the screen door, broke its frail latch and burst into the room. Brandishing guns, they ordered the women to lie face down on the floor, bound them with telephone cord and ransacked the house, taking cash and jewelry. One woman was pistol-whipped.

Within minutes, the robbers were gone, leaving the women alone to struggle free and then flee to a neighbor's house to seek help. Stunned by the suddenness of the attack, the women could not even describe the robbers to authorities.

As many as eight times in the past month, this scenario has occurred in the San Gabriel Valley and southeast Los Angeles County.

Authorities speculate that the same men could be responsible for a series of armed home invasions in which robbers burst in through unlocked front doors or windows and yank phone cords to bind their victims. Residents are being warned to lock their doors between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. They also are continuing the hunt for the invaders.

But detectives have been stymied because of the robbers' boldness and speed--five to 10 minutes--catching victims off-guard and unable to clearly describe their attackers.

"The victims are scared out of their wits and after that initial jolt (upon entry), they are not allowed to see the suspects' faces anymore," said Monterey Park police Detective Wes Clair. "There's not much to go on."

The general description of the robbers is vague, Clair said. Victims described the attackers only as three black males in their teens or early 20s, 5-feet-11 to 6-feet-3, between 180 to 190 pounds and wearing dark clothing.

"These guys always yank the phones," Clair said. "It's the first thing they do to make sure nobody calls for help."

Different cars are described in the getaway, Downey police Detective Terry Pruitt said. The vehicles include a 1986 gray Oldsmobile Cutlass; a white, four-door Toyota or Honda; a white van with a chrome luggage rack and tinted windows; and a black, 1982 four-door Nissan.

Some investigators think the robbers use stolen cars. Some speculate that more than three men could be involved, with the robbers switching roles. Nonetheless, their behavior is the same.

"The suspects have been very aggressive and violent," Pruitt said.

The wave of home invasions appears to have begun July 6 in Downey, authorities said.

The first one in the San Gabriel Valley occurred July 7 in an unincorporated area near San Gabriel, Los Angeles sheriff's Detective Frank Gutierrez said.

A woman and her 10-year-old son were relaxing at home--their front door open and the screen door latched--when three men burst in. They bound both victims with the phone cord and took jewelry, cash and a television set. The total loss was $1,000, Gutierrez said.

A second incident involving three men matching the same general description occurred a few minutes later about four miles away in Rosemead when an elderly woman left her house to fetch her dog and discovered three men in her garage. She ran back inside her home, locked the garage door entry and phoned police. The men ran away, Gutierrez said.

Sheriff's detectives say similar robberies have occurred July 22 in Montebello, July 27 in an unincorporated area near Pico Rivera, July 28 in Downey, the Aug. 5 incident in Monterey Park and Aug. 9 in Downey.

The most recent invasion occurred Aug. 12 in Monterey Park, Clair said. At 11:45 p.m., a couple in their 40s in a second-floor apartment of a four-unit complex on Lincoln Street was robbed of $3,000 in cash and jewelry when three men rushed in through an open front door. The man was pistol-whipped when he tried to take the gun away from one of the robbers. He suffered a black eye and a gash that required six stitches to close it, Clair said.

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