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Robberies unnerve West L.A.

There have been 12 home invasions in the area since May, most of them targeting older women.

August 02, 2008|Ann M. Simmons and Evelyn Larrubia | Times Staff Writers

Police are investigating the latest in a series of home invasion robberies that have targeted elderly women in the West Los Angeles area and left many residents nervous.

The most recent crime occurred about 4 p.m. Tuesday, when a 96-year-old woman was approached from behind by a man near her home in the 2500 block of Westwood Boulevard, police said.

The assailant overpowered the victim and forced her into her residence, which he ransacked before fleeing with the woman's property, police said. The woman was treated at a local hospital for bruises and released the same day.

The attack was the 12th such home invasion robbery in the West Los Angeles area since late May, but it was the first to take place in the afternoon, police said. The other assaults have all occurred in the early morning.

"It hurts me that this man continues to prey on some of the most helpless people in our society," said Deputy Chief Terry Hara, commanding officer of the LAPD's West Bureau. "We're putting additional resources on this case."

The series of attacks has worried residents of the normally quiet area. Some are closely following the news, updating security systems and locking windows at night.

Brandon Behrstock, 42, says he was already focused on security before the attacks, having installed bars on some windows of his house.

With a home invasion robber on the loose, he has upgraded locks and goes around shutting windows at night and ensuring that outdoor lights stay on.

"I am totally concerned," he said. "I upgraded a few things that I thought weren't totally secure."

Lynette Padwa, 53, a nonfiction book writer, said she was awakened two weeks ago by circling helicopters after one of the attacks. She said the sound is unusual in her relatively crime-free neighborhood.

"It gets a little paranoid," she said. "I'm closing every single window, because that's how they come in. I'm being nervous and worried and wondering when they're going to catch these guys and why it's taking so long."

Ana Aguirre, an LAPD spokeswoman, said the assailant typically is unarmed and targets one-story structures. In most of the incidents, he has entered through an unlocked window or by jimmying a lock on a window or door.

Although the victims primarily have been elderly women, there is no indication of a specific pattern to the man's actions, he said.

"It's not been determined how he is targeting the individuals, whether he is observing them prior to each incident," Aguirre said. "There is no reason to believe he may know them."

Detectives are reviewing two other home invasions that have occurred in Santa Monica and Culver City to determine whether they are linked.

In the Santa Monica incident July 18, police said, an elderly woman was awakened about 3:30 a.m. by the sound of an intruder in her home in the 2300 block of 22nd Street. The thief rummaged through the house and stole several items, police said.

Sgt. Renaldi Thruston of the Santa Monica Police Department confirmed that the residence was a one-story structure, but he would not comment on how the intruder entered the home, in order "not to jeopardize the case."

In several of the West L.A.-area incidents, police said victims identified the suspect as a black man between ages 25 and 40, 6 feet tall and weighing about 200 pounds. During the robberies, he wore dark clothing, dark gloves and a ski mask, police said.

Aguirre said several victims had identified the suspect's race, having glimpsed exposed skin. The race of the suspect in the Santa Monica home invasion is unknown, police said.

"We're all very concerned. . . . It has cast a gray shadow over the neighborhood," said Meg Sullivan, who has lived for six years in Rancho Park, less than two blocks from the site of a June 4 home invasion in the 10500 block of Cushdon Avenue.

Sullivan, 49, said the neighborhood's reputation for safety had made many people complacent. She sometimes left her doors unlocked. But now neighbors have started calling each other to talk about the home invasions, she said

"This has sent a shudder through the neighborhood," Sullivan said.

Aubrey Ginsberg, a retired Los Angeles police detective and West L.A. resident since the 1970s, said he took the recent home invasions "personally," given his background in law enforcement.

"This is a nightmare, with this guy who is obviously a serial predator," Ginsberg said. "What's unusual is that you don't hear a lot of the same suspect continuing this type of crime and not getting caught."

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ann.simmons@latimes.com

evelyn.larrubia@latimes.com

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