Young men dressed in warmup suits and posing as joggers have committed 13 armed robberies over the last two months in a 25-block wooded area of Anacostia.
A suspect was arrested and charged Nov. 1 with one of the robberies, but since then there have been at least three more armed robberies in the area committed by men in warmup suits.
The victims, in all but one case, were alone. One victim was killed and two others suffered gunshot wounds.
As a result, residents of the area say they are now frightened by the sight of joggers between midnight and dawn, when most of the robberies have taken place. One jogger says he has stopped running after dark because he fears police or residents will mistake him for a holdup man. And police talk about the frustrations of trying to track down a robber wearing a jogging suit in this city of joggers.
"Look outside some night at all the dudes out there in jogging suits," said Detective Loren Leadmon of the Benning Road NE station. "They're on bicycles in jogging outfits, loafing in jogging outfits and jogging in jogging outfits. Something happens and we're chasing joggers left and right."
The man who was killed, Mack Pope, 48, of Hillcrest Heights was shot to death before dawn on Oct. 31 when, according to police, he was the last of five persons robbed during a threehour period in a 12-block area of Southeast.
Pope was described as the father of six, a hard-working man who "loved to work," was fond of joking with people and was a "real family man." He held three jobs.
The most recent robbery by a jogger occurred at 3:15 a.m. Nov. 11. The victim, who asked not to be identified, was unlocking the front door of his house in the 1700 block of 33rd Place SE when a man in a blue jogging suit jumped from behind some bushes and demanded his money.
The robber held a gun in each hand, and jogged away with $150 and a wristwatch.
The jogger holdup men, who work alone, usually surprise their victims from behind and then jog or run away. In the Anacostia area where the robberies have taken place, woods lie near town house apartments for mostly low-income families.
In the days before jogging became a craze, police would look suspiciously on anyone running from the scene of a crime. But "a jogging suit gives a robber a reason for being out on the street," said Detective Alfred Graves of the 7th District. "Police ask him why he's running and he'll say he's jogging. People running with regular clothes would look pretty suspicious."
Jeff Darman, president of the National Road Runners Club, wants it understood and police agree, that the robbers are probably not bona fide health enthusiasts.
"There's no reason a person can't be a runner and thief," said Darman, "but runners usually have different qualities than thieves. It takes discipline to get oneself in shape -- that's something most thieves don't have."
Nevertheless, neighbors of jogger bandit victims are having trouble distinguishing between the two.
Betty More, the aunt and a neighbor of a man who was robbed and shot at but not injured, says she has been afraid to go out at night since the incident several weeks ago.
"There's just no enjoyment any more," said Moore. "I'm frightened when I see a jogger now. When I see a jogger I go into the first apartment building nearby."
Esther Winston who lives nearby says she does not worry about joggers because she goes out "at reasonable times during the day."
"But we have a lot of senior citizens in this building and I've heard them talking," said Winston. "Every time they see a jogger they assume it's that man."
In the aftermath of one recent jogger robbery, police stopped Bruce Bailey, 22, while he was jogging across the Sousa Bridge. They asked him if he had seen anyone suspicious. Bailey said no and showed them some identification.
But as a result of that experience, Bailey says he has stopped jogging his usual hour -- 5 a.m.
"People around here are nervous about joggers," Bailey said. "I don't want them thinking I'm him (the robber) and shooting at me. As long as they're puzzled about who's doing the robberies, I'm not taking any chances."