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Intruders Linked to 11 Robberies : Crime: Police speculate the nighttime break-ins--in which residents are bound with phone cords--are the work of one group.

August 22, 1993|VICKI TORRES and EMILY ADAMS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SOUTHEAST AREA — It was just before 10 p.m. when three men burst in through an unlocked door in Pico Rivera. One man shoved a gun at a young woman in the living room while another held a knife to her 2-year-old son. They demanded cash and guns.

The woman screamed. Her father ran in from the bedroom and then all three were forced into the bedroom, where the man was tied up with telephone cords.

One intruder tried to kiss the young woman. Enraged, her father tried to defend her. He was stabbed in the back and pistol-whipped. The young woman escaped from the house, hiding her son in a trash can while she scaled a fence to seek help from neighbors. Her sister, who was taking a shower, didn't know the family was in danger.

It was July 27 and, police believe, the robbers' night was just beginning. An hour later, another home was invaded in Fullerton. Twenty minutes after midnight, three men of the same description walked into the home of an elderly woman in Downey, tied her up with telephone cord, beat her and took jewelry and cash.

At least 11 times in the past two months, this scenario has occurred in Southeast Los Angeles County, the San Gabriel Valley and Orange County. The first home was robbed July 6 in Downey, and most recently, robbers struck again in Pico Rivera on Tuesday.

Authorities speculate that the same men could be responsible for the series of armed home invasions. Bursting in through unlocked front doors or windows, the robbers usually yank phone cords to bind their victims. Residents are being warned to lock their doors.

"Usually, the victims' lives are threatened," said Downey Police Detective John Lynch. "And always, there is violence."

In most cases, one person is pistol-whipped by an intruder who is almost always wearing dark clothing and a ski mask.

Detectives have been stymied in their hunt for the intruders because of the robbers' boldness and speed--five to 10 minutes in each house--catching victims off-guard and leaving them unable to clearly describe their attackers.

"The victims are scared out of their wits, and after that initial jolt, 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 getaway cars are described by victims and witnesses, Downey police Detective Terry Pruitt said. The vehicles include a gray 1986 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.

Among the other incidents:

* On July 6 in Downey, a couple were watching television with their front door ajar when three men burst in, tied them with telephone cords, pistol-whipped the man and ransacked the house for cash and jewelry.

* The following night, in an unincorporated area near San Gabriel, a woman and her 10-year-old son were home--their front door open and the screen door latched--when three men burst in, Sheriff's Department Detective Frank Gutierrez said. 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. But in this case, an elderly woman managed to escape the would-be robbers and phone police, Gutierrez said.

* On Aug. 5, two young women were relaxing in their Monterey Park home late at night when 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.

* On Aug. 9, another couple in Downey were attacked in their home and robbed.

Similar incidents were reported July 22 in Montebello and Aug. 12 in Monterey Park.

Last week, the intruders may have ventured into daylight in Pico Rivera, said Detective Mel Apodaca of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. It was midafternoon Tuesday when two men forced their way in the door of a small house with a man, woman and their two small daughters inside. The man was bound and pistol-whipped while the woman and girls were forced into a closet. A camcorder and telephone were taken.

While only two men were seen in the last crime, detectives link the robbery with the others.

"It certainly looks like a crime spree," Apodaca said.

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