Northwest NEWS

December 14, 1998

Local News

String of robberies hits area


King County Sheriff's Deputy R.J. Meyers dusts for fingerprints on the door of a Woodinville health supplements store after a robbery and sexual assault occurred there.
Staff photo by Andrew Walgamott.

by Andrew Walgamott, staff reporter

   WOODINVILLE--Officers fanned out across Woodinville in the wake of last week's robbery and sexual assault of a woman at a downtown health supplement store, talking to business people and dropping off sketches of the suspect.

   Reported Woodinville Sgt. Clint Olson: "There's not a panic, but a lot of concern and awareness." He visited with 33 businesses in the QFC shopping center last Thursday morning.

   But Olson notes there was apprehension at some shops where he was told the doors were being locked when female employees are there alone. Also, Top Foods began escorting employees to their cars.

   Hoping to stave off similar attacks in the future, Woodinville officials produced a personal safety pamphlet available at City Hall that advises "if you make yourself aware, plan, practice and secure, then you greatly decrease your chances of being a victim." It also gives tips on how to achieve those goals.

   Repeating well-worn but timely advice, Woodinville Police Chief Ken Wardstrom said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

   The attack last Tuesday was unsettling, occurring at about 1:50 p.m. in Woodinville's General Nutrition Center along one of the city's most well-traveled streets. According to the police report, an 18-year-old female clerk was in a back office on the phone when she heard a door chime go off. When she went onto the sales floor, the suspect greeted her, then said "I don't want to scare you," opening his coat to pull a black semiautomatic handgun from his waistband.

   The suspect first asked for money from her purse, then the register. He groped the victim, reaching inside her clothing, while collecting over $300 in cash and coins.

   Before leaving, the suspect told the woman to unplug the phone, to go back into the office, and not go out the back door. Though no car was seen, police suspect he may have had his vehicle parked behind the store and used a street other than 175th to exit town.

   As officers began investigating the scene, sheriff's deputies were dispatched to a similar call at a Juanita hair salon. Only 20 minutes and four-and-a-half miles separated the scenes. King County Sheriff's spokesman John Urquhart said the suspect took money from a 35-year-old woman's purse, as well as her ATM card, cash from the till, then sexually assaulted her.

   The suspect was described as a white male in his mid-30s, 5'6" to 5'8", medium build, with brown or blond curly hair down to his shoulders, and a closely cropped mustache. He was wearing blue jeans and a dark-colored jacket.

   A similarly-described man was also seen at a hair salon two doors away from GNC. It wasn't clear whether this was before or after the robbery and assault next door.

   Afterwards, Urquhart described the suspect as "a gutsy, dangerous person." In both cases, the man robbed stores tended by lone female employees at busy strip malls. Ten county detectives were assigned to the case.

   The following night, there was another string of robberies, somewhat reminiscent of one that occurred at this time last year. In 74 minutes, four businesses and a public library were robbed.

   It began at 5:15 p.m. where a suspect matching the description from Woodinville and Juanita robbed a Baskin & Robbins ice cream parlor in the Lake Forest Town Centre. The suspect asked for money from the till and for a phone hooked to a wall. He left on foot.

   Forty-minutes and two-and-a-half miles south on Lake City Way, a restaurant at NE 125th St. was robbed, followed quickly by a consignment shop across the street. Just after 6:30 p.m., a convenience store and, oddly, a library were robbed in the Montlake neighborhood near the University of Washington campus.

   Hundreds of tips flooded police, and police responded to numerous reports of suspicious individuals all week. Anyone with information on who the suspect is, or where he might be staying, is asked to call King County detectives at (206) 296-7557, or (206) 296-3311.