Series of strong-arm robberies on NW Side

February 2, 2012 8:36:30 PM PST
A robbery suspect is targeting women on the city's Northwest Side. Chicago police issued a warning after more than a dozen strong-arm robberies were reported over the last two months.

Most of the robberies have happened in the late night or early morning hours. The incidents have all occurred in Chicago's 14th District, which is the area west of Ashland Avenue to Central Park Avenue and north of Division Street to Diversey Parkway since early December.

Area 5 detectives say that despite the random nature of the attacks, the person or persons who carried them out is bound to get caught, because the method that they use seems to be the same each time: Targeting vulnerable people at vulnerable times of the day.

Just south of the busy Damen-Milwaukee-North Avenue intersection is the sight of the 13th strong-arm robbery to take place since early December. On January 27 a woman was knocked down from behind and had her purse stolen in the 2000-block of West Pierce.

New surveillance video of that attack shows the woman walking north on Damen. A man quickly approaches her from around the corner and snatches her purse. She falls down and he runs away on West Pierce. Another angle shows the suspect and a witness who does not get involved.

That is essentially the same scenario that played out with a dozen other victims spread throughout Chicago's 14th district.

"A lot of these are happening late night or early in the morning," Sgt. Patrick Crawford, CPD Area 5, said. "They are by themselves, so we suggest when possible try to stay in pairs, in well-lit areas ... All these victims are alone, female victims. And they are being knocked, usually from behind, purses taken, bags, cell phones."

The video from the January 27th attack was shot from surveillance cameras at Penny's Noodles restaurant in Wicker Park.

"We didn't get a good look at the person's face, but with the other evidence I hope it helps at least," said Gus Chiamopoulos, owner of Penny's Noodles.

Police feel confident about tracking down the suspect or suspects responsible because they have video of the older model Cadillac Deville at least one victim said was driven by their assailant. Her credit cards were used an hour after the assault by someone riding in the car.

"It could be a very good lead," said Crawford. "We just need to find out whose car it is was and try and link it up to the crime."

Chicago police say women need to be more vigilant, and not make the mistake some victims made of wearing headphones and not being aware of their surroundings.

In Logan Square, Teresa Valladares, a tax preparer, says there is little evidence of police patrols.

"I'm really, really scared," said Valladares. "At night when I get out of work sometimes I have to have my husband come pick me up."

Caroline Rau, an actor pursuing a Masters degree in fine arts at DePaul, says putting the onus on women to be more aware misses the point about what can be done to stop the muggings.

"People are going to have to find a way to kind of come together the way people are coming together to do bad things ... to make the world safer," Rau said.

"It's really scary, I'm not going to lie. You just have to be aware of your surroundings," said Alex Zawada, Wicker Park worker.

"I'm really surprised as to the number of robberies that have occurred in the area," said 26th Ward Alderman Roberto Maldonado. " I've been told by the police that it is not clear if it was one individual, or it could be more than one."