A Wauwatosa man got a sort of swift justice for being stricken with mortal fear when he was robbed and carjacked at gunpoint by two youths right outside his own garage.
His car and all his belongings were rapidly recovered, and the suspected gunman, just 15 years old, was in custody less than 45 minutes after the crime.
arrested the boy — they seemed to know right where to look for him — and then amassed solid evidence against him with the help of two vigilant residents of Milwaukee's Sherman Park neighborhood.
In previously unreleased reports, Wauwatosa officers tell how on the night of Aug. 6, a hunch zeroed them in on the Milwaukee neighborhood where within minutes they spotted the stolen car and captured the teenage suspect.
But they would have lacked strong evidence without the help of some alert and forthcoming Milwaukee citizens.
A resident's nightmarish encounter
According to the reports:
At 9:07 p.m. Aug. 6, the victim, a resident of the 2400 block of North 70th Street, reported he had just been robbed at gunpoint of his wallet and his car by two youths.
He had just come home, pulled into his garage and started walking toward his house when he saw two youths standing in his yard not 15 feet away.
The two walked quicky toward him, and one of them ordered him back into his car, he said. When he froze and did not respond, one of them pulled a gun, which the victim described as "a full-frame black semi-automatic."
The youth demanded his wallet and keys, and he complied, saying "No" and "Please," over and over. He said the gunman handed the keys to the other suspect, who got into his driver's seat and started the car.
The boy kept the gun trained on him the whole time, he said, and then told him to turn around and not look back, saying, “Don’t turn around, I will shoot you.”
He obeyed, waiting until he heard his car, a 2001 Toyota Corolla, disappearing up the street before he moved to call police. He told officers he was sure he would be able to identify the youth who held the gun on him — a slightly built black youth between 14 and 16, wearing checkered shorts.
While officers were interviewing the victim, who was still shaking from fright, a report came in that the car had been spotted in an alley in the 2600 block between North 44th and 45th streets in Milwaukee. Soon thereafter came another report, that a suspect had been apprehended.
Police target a neighborhood of known offenders
Swarms of Wauwatosa police squads and detectives had descended on the area surrounding the crime scene —and some kept going right past it.
An officer noted that his was one of three Tosa squads that began their search for the stolen car in the area of Sherman Boulevard and West Burleigh Street in Milwaukee, because “a large number of suspects in recent robberies and burglaries have ties to that area.”
Within minutes of reaching the Sherman Park neighborhood, one of the officers spotted the stolen Toyota just pulling out of the alley between North 44th and 45th streets onto West Center Street. The front license plate was a match.
The officer — noting that the rear plate had been bent in from the sides so as to be unreadable — followed as the car turned south onto 45th for one block, then back east on West Clarke Street, then back up the other end of the same alley it had left. When it pulled into a driveway behind a house in the block, he hit his lights.
Without even turning off the ignition, the driver jumped out and ran through the back yard toward the street. The officer got only a brief glimpse of him.
Other officers arrived moments later on 45th Street and instantly saw that a boy they spotted on the sidewalk perfectly matched the victim's description, checkered shorts and all. They stopped him and took him into custody without incident.
Police confront an absence of useful evidence
However, the boy insisted that he hadn't stolen the car or even been in it, wasn't involved in any crime in any way, and told police they would find no evidence against him because he hadn't done anything wrong.
He said he had just been walking along after stopping at a nearby convenience store for a soft drink.
Despite the fact that the only nearby convenience store had been closed since 9 p.m., police would need more than a description of physique and similar clothing to positively link him to the robbery. (In fact, they would later learn that even that description would be of little help — the victim would not be able to pick the boy out of a photo lineup.)
They also did not find a gun on him or in the car, he didn't have any property on him they could immediately link to the victim, and they didn't have the second suspect in hand.
The boy volunteered the information that he was on probation for stealing a car and had been arrested two days before for having “a sack of weed.” Two days before that, he had broken a pinky finger in a fight. He was wearing an elastic bandage on his forearm for that, something the robbery victim had not reported.
Officers were sure they had the gunman, but it looked like they might have to hope for forensic evidence — the boy's fingerprints or DNA in the car. Even if that did pan out, which it might not, could that place him at the crime? Even in just a little more than half an hour, the car could have changed hands.
Suddenly, a gold mine of evidence presented itself. The boy had picked the wrong house at which to ditch the stolen car.
An angel of Sherman Park appears
Sherman Park has long been called a neighborhood "in transition." It really isn't anymore.
Although beset by crime and other symptoms of urban decay around it, many standup residents of Sherman Park, old and new and from all backgrounds, have refused to flee or be pushed out of the area.
The district now has a reputation for having settled into a new existence as one of Milwaukee's most diverse on every count, covering the full spectrum of urban residential life, for good and bad. The majority of its citizens are not just law-abiding, they are fiercely devoted to fighting crime and are not afraid of retaliation.
As officers and detectives from Wauwatosa were combing the area around the house for evidence, the homeowner, a 33-year-old African-American woman, stepped out of the house to speak with them.
She has video surveillance cameras covering all sides of her house, she said, and would be happy to let officers take a look at it.
From front and rear, the cameras showed the stolen car coming down 45th Street, then turning up the alley and stopping behind the house next door.
Several subjects walk up to the car, which at that time did have two occupants. After a brief exchange, the car is driven off again, now with only the driver.
After a couple of minutes, the same is repeated, front and back, but this time with the Wauwatosa officer tailing the car and pulling in, the fleeing driver identifiable by his clothes as the same 15-year-old arrested moments later out front.
Now there was no question that the suspect had been in the stolen car. But still needed, if possible, were direct links to the holdup.
A second citizen steps forward
The next morning, a resident of the north end of the Sherman Park area, about 10 blocks away, called police to report finding a hoard of property dumped in the narrow space between his garage and his neighbor's.
The caller, a 24-year-old African-American resident, said the stuff couldn't have been there longer than overnight because he would have noticed.
The pile of property — clothing, books, wood, tools, addressed mail, magazines and a wallet still containing credit cards and driver's license — all belonged to the victim.
The caller lives in the 4600 block of West Scranton Place. The suspect lives in the 4600 block of West Townsend Avenue — one block south and backing on the same alley.
Handful of loose change could tie it up
Strong circumstantial evidence, that, but still it would be nice to have a single, irrefutable piece of evidence putting the boy at the crime. Even though seemingly every article in the car had been dumped very near his home, would a district attorney or juvenile judge consider that more than coincidence?
The only things the 15-year-old had in his possession when he was arrested were a cell phone and a bag of change. The cell phone did not belong to the victim and could not be traced to any crime.
The boy was sent off to juvenile detention with those possessions considered as his own.
Later, as detectives interviewed the victim again, about his recollection of events, about all his property that had been recovered at the Scranton Place garage, they asked him if, by chance, he'd left any change in the car.
Why, yes, he said, he had.
Could he describe that in any detail?
Yes, he could. He kept a plastic bag in the trunk, he said, a sandwich bag, full of change and stapled shut. It held around $5, he thought, and was all nickels, dimes and quarters — no pennies.
Detectives went to the Juvenile Justice Center with a search warrant and recovered from the boy's intake property locker one plastic sandwich bag, stapled shut, containing $6.15 cents in change — nickels, dimes and quarters.