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Mount Washington Residents Fear They’re Being Cased

A series of suspicious late-night door-knockers has some people on edge.

Looking down Roseview Avenue towards W. Avenue 37—the area of Mount Washington where Thursday night's suspicious visits occurred. (Photo credit: Samantha Allen-Newman).
Looking down Roseview Avenue towards W. Avenue 37—the area of Mount Washington where Thursday night's suspicious visits occurred. (Photo credit: Samantha Allen-Newman).

Samantha Allen-Newman was at her Mount Washington home this past Thursday when she heard a knock on her front door. It was 7:45 p.m. and Allen-Newman anxiously wondered who it could be.

A young woman with long, dyed blonde hair was standing outside with two young men—one of them stocky, unshaven and bespectacled, the other slender, with close-cropped hair. The woman asked Allen-Newman if she was interested in signing up for a daycare or afterschool program.

“She was a really fast talker and did all the talking,” said Allen-Newman, who works with children as a girl scouts leader and a catechism instructor at St. Bernard's Parish in Glassell Park. “I am familiar with some of the safety requirements and checks that one has to go through to work with kids,” she said, adding: “So I thought I would sound these guys out, just to see if they were legit.”

Allen-Newman mentioned several children’s programs, including STAR, Carney and Carlin G. When the names didn’t register with the youth standing before her, she tried again, this time mentioning Virtus training, live scan fingerprinting and the FBI sexual predator database.

“Nothing—no recognition of those things,” Allen-Newman told Highland Park-Mount Washington Patch. “I quickly ended the conversation and closed the door.”

Flashback

It struck Allen-Newman as odd that anyone would come so late in the night and ask about daycare and afterschool care. And she was suddenly reminded that about six weeks earlier, during the Labor Day weekend, a car had been stolen from her street and several vehicles broken into. Because Allen-Newman is part of the Mount Washington Neighborhood Watch program, she wasted no time in calling the police at 1-877-ASK-LAPD as well everyone who lives with children on her street—Avenue 37, between San Rafael and the Roseview Avenue Tacoma Y intersection.

“One of my neighbors called back,” Allen-Newman said. “She has an infant and got hit up right around the same time I did. The three went to her house and asked her if she wanted to purchase newspapers from them and asked her to give her consent in writing for an authorization to withdraw money from her bank account.”

Daily News Offer

According to an e-mail exchange that Allen-Newman had with that neighbor, the young woman who had offered children’s services offered her a 10-day trial subscription of the Los Angeles Daily News. She also mentioned that she and her male associates had been going around the neighborhood offering their services to residents on the opposite side of the street for the past three weeks. Tonight, the young woman added, she was knocking on doors on the other side of the street.

“I spoke to all three of them and asked them where they went to school,” the neighbor wrote. “The fast-talking girl told me she went to Franklin and that they would get credit for doing this and it would count toward their business class in high school. I told her I absolutely didn’t want the Daily News and she told me all three of them would do anything for me as volunteers—they would do gardening, wash my car, etc. In the end, they left. I gave them nothing.” 

Same Visitors, Different Pitch

A third neighbor who lives nearby, on Killarney Avenue, reported to Allen-Newman that the three youths had come to her house, too, that night. 

“I watched them through the peep hole and decided not to open the door,” she wrote to Allen-Newman in an e-mail. “I heard her talking to the two guys standing back. She said people in this neighborhood probably worry that the two guys might be casing their house. She pointed out my [surveillance] cameras to them."

The young woman claimed she’s a neighbor who lives down the street. “She gave me a similar story about some student newspaper,” the neighbor told Allen-Newman. “When I asked if they had a brochure she said they ran out. Then she tried to convince me that it was urgent for me to sign a petition tonight. But I didn't see any of them holding a clipboard or papers. They left after I told her I wasn't interested.”

Casing?

Allen-Newman reckons that the late-night visitors are casing the neighborhood. “Their real intent is to take a look inside the house for valuables to take at that moment or maybe come back for later,” she told Patch, adding that other possible motives include:

• Seeing who’s home and who isn't.

• Observing whether or not someone is alone in the house.

• Looking to find an unobtrusive point of entry with the intent to commit a crime later.

“Another neighbor verbally told me she saw the female door-knocker peer across the street over a neighbor’s wall to see if there was a way in,” Allen-Newman said. “Add to that the fact that a car was stolen—and later recovered—and several cars on the same street were broken into at the same time and you get a populace that has, I think, reason to be suspicious.”

LAPD: What to do

According to Los Angeles Police Department Senior Lead Officer Mark Allen, who is in charge of northern Highland Park and a section of Mount Washington, while knocking on people’s doors and offering services isn’t a crime, “if the individuals seem aggressive and don’t take No for an answer, you definitely want to call us.” 

Allen recommends asking such people for their identification, which company, if any, they work for, and then calling that company to ask if they do have salespeople out in the neighborhood.

Further, although Franklin High School does require community service hours, and “that is something anybody can take advantage of, knocking on doors and selling newspapers is definitely not what they do,” Allen said.

The bottom line is that “if things don’t add up right and the hair stands up on the back of your neck, there is probably something wrong and you should definitely call us,” the senior lead officer said.

Allen offered this final piece of advice: “Don’t’ he afraid to challenge these people—by challenge I mean ask them for identification, a phone number, which will alert them that it’s time to go.”

John Richardson October 16, 2013 at 10:40 AM
I had a very similar case of this at my home in Highland Park about 2 weeks ago. Two high school age girls, one very fast talking. Same story about Franklin High. They had nothing showing they were working for the school or for Pasadena Star News, and no L.A. business permit. I turned them down.
Baird Martin October 16, 2013 at 12:55 PM
2 instances in HP for me, first time this kid came to the door, spoke fast, told him I wasn't interested and to get lost. Second time the two guys opened my gate, came into the porch area and were looking into my windows, presumably to see if anyone was home, (I like to think the best). I told them to get off my yard and if I ever saw them poking around my windows, I would shoot them with my 9mm. I showed them the gun for good measure, wasn't loaded, but they got the point. Long story short, unless the LAPD starts patrolling these small streets, which have traditionally not been patrolled all that much, someone is going to get hurt.
Nathan Strong October 16, 2013 at 01:13 PM
These people knocked on my door that same Thursday at 9pm. I was by myself and it was too fishy so I didn't answer!
Katie Lou October 16, 2013 at 01:50 PM
The same fast-talking woman was knocking on doors on Mount Washington Drive about two weeks ago, but with two other girls. They looked pretty young - 15 or 16. I thought it was strange that they were out in the dark. She said she was a neighbor and wanted to talk about a meeting they had recently. Then she asked if I was "the lady of the house." I said no because it was a weird question, and she asked if I knew when "the lady of the house" would be home. When I said no, they left. So bizarre. Later, I heard her badgering a neighbor for cash or a check to help them get points for graduation. He declined, but she was really trying hard to get something out of him. In retrospect, I should have called the cops and will do so if I see them again.
JMarsh October 16, 2013 at 02:14 PM
Thanks for this story. It is good to know what scams are going on in our neighborhood. My rule "If I don't know you I won't answer the door or let you in my house." We need to be aware that sometimes these are "distraction robberies." One person talks to the homeowner and keeps their attention while others steal stuff.
Kathy October 16, 2013 at 03:16 PM
I never answer the door. I ask first, who is it??, when I get an unknown answer, I tell them to go away. If they persist I tell them I'm calling 911 and they leave. Don't take a chance. Years ago, about 3AM, some idiot rang the bell, said he was my neighbor up the street....had car trouble and wanted me to help him. I called 911, but he left before the cops arrived.
Heather October 16, 2013 at 07:46 PM
We had a similar situation a few weeks ago. It was already dark and a nervous chubby disheveled teenage boy babbling about a neighborhood meeting, paperboys and newpaper subscriptions showed up at our door. None of it made much sense. We didn't actually open the door. The whole thing seemed really fishy. He wandered off to a neighbor's door and when they didn't answer he was picked up by a large white SUV. An Escalade, perhaps? There were at least 2 teenage boys in the SUV. The whole thing just felt really weird.
Nedercutt October 17, 2013 at 01:43 AM
I opened the door while cleaning one of my handguns, a 357 Magnum. They politely excused themselves. People don't do this type of activity at 9pm, I'm sorry. I was really hoping they'd try something though.
J. W. October 17, 2013 at 12:22 PM
They should not be soliciting after dark. Not that I want anyone like that around taking up my time. They'd better show their city permit and ID right up front, or better yet, hand over a copy with printed literature if they're legit. I had that knock at the door, most likely the same people and well after dark, even though I have a "no solicitors" sign in plain enough view. I don't answer the door to anyone I'm not expecting and it's easy enough for people you know to call first these days. I very much like the gun-cleaning idea. Maybe a dirty apron, frowsy hair and a chef's knife in hand? With an irritated look. That's more how I roll.
Baird Martin October 18, 2013 at 02:26 PM
@nedercutt That's a nice piece. As a rule of thumb I tell the kids not to open the door to anyone. If someone comes knocking unannounced after dark, the Benelli answers the door.
Chris Kurtek October 22, 2013 at 11:59 AM
Well those evil fast talking girls from Franklin High came to my house too. They were neat, well groomed and polite. They were also persistent - even with the offers to wash my car, walk my dog, or do odd jobs. They were trying to earn credit in school. They talked me into taking a month free Sunday subscription to the LA Daily News. I filled out a form, they gave me a subscription receipt - with the one girl's name on it and rep. #. THey did explain to me that it would take at least a week before they started delivering the paper. Well, this past Sunday I got my first paper delivered to my doorstep. So did the other 2 people in my complex who had a little faith in them. Not everyone is evil.
Joe Walker October 22, 2013 at 02:12 PM
I would bet anything that those girls were not from any local school. I had a guy come to my door saying he was from the local high school selling subscriptions and upon questioning, he could not name his counselor or anyone at the school. Him and his friends bear a hasty retreat.
LHuLo November 17, 2013 at 02:48 AM
This girl (and one guy) came to my house near Occidental in Highland Park as well! They were selling some kind of coupons, but when I asked for details, they couldn't give them. They said they would get credit for class. But again, the girl couldn't elaborate on the class or what I would get for the coupons. It was late at night, and I was home alone with my baby, I was creeped out. I told them not to come by so late trying to sell things. I wish I hadn't opened the door!

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