Last Nov. 8 dawned routinely enough for John Allen, store manager at the Grand Union supermarket at 12390 Georgia Ave. in Glenmont. Customers were flocking in for Thursday's pre-Thanksgiving specials, including the canned pumpkin moving briskly at two 16-ounce cans for a dollar.
Then around at 3:30 in the afternoon, a three-car caravan of what Montgomery County police call Gypsies showed up.
By supper time, according to police accounts, the lock on the supermarket's cash box had been smashed off, check-out aisles were sloshed with milk, a 250-pound woman wearing a long silk dress with nothing on underneath had exposed herself, 23 kids, all under 10 years old, had gone berserk in the store, a cursing 15-year-old had bitten Allen on the wrist, forcing him later to get a tetanus shot, and four Gypsy women had been arrested and charged with indecent exposure, destruction of property, and theft.
"I've been robbed before," said the 37-year-old grocer. "But this was much more traumatic."
Gimos Nuna, Yauiva Bogdanov, Ubinka Yvonno and a 15-year-old juvenile were released later that night on a total of $6,000 bond.
The four women, who gave a Chicago address, faced up to nine years in jail and fines of $3,500. But when their trial date came up two days ago in Montgomery County District Court, they had apparently hit the road, as is a Gypsy's wont.
District Court Judge Charles W. Woodward ordered the bond forfeited and issued warrants for the quartet's arrest. But prosecutors doubt they will ever see the woman again.
"This is about the strangest case I've ever seen," said assistant state's attorney Stephan Cassella.
According to police accounts, this is what happened.
While the bulk of the Gypsy caravan lingered out in the parking lot, four women got out of a red Chevrolet, walked through the electric doors and wandered over to the supermarket's office, an open-air structure that looked down over the cash registers. Twenty-two-year-old Nuna climbed up a cigar rack into the office where $250 was padlocked in a strong box.
Her three companions huddled close by. There were about 50 customers in the store. Allen, who had been in aisle four redesigning a display of disposal diapers, heard a commotion coming from the office.
He scurried down the aisle past a rack of infant footwear and found three women advancing on him. They were wearing long black and green silk shirts, loose blouses and turquoise rings.
One grabbed his arm and tried to yank him away from the office and another put her shawl in front of his face.
In the ensuing scuffle Allen hollered for someone to call the police. Meat manager Steve Mauk raced to the front of the store to block the exit. Produce manager Terry Frailey and store supervisor Tony Lombo joined the fracas trying to keep the women from getting away.
Then Nuna broke free, whisked her dress over her head, and according to court papers, "revealed her genital area in an apparent attempt to cause further comotion.
"She picked up her dress and didn't have anything on," Allen recalled. "You don't see things like that every day in a grocery store."
But the view did not faze him. "I tried to push her up against the dog food at the front of the store. She was rather heavy."
According to court papers, another Gypsy, Bogdanov, "pulled the top of her clothes up exposing her breasts and causing considerable disruption to the operation of the store and considerable anguish."
The four men had managed to round up the women when two Gypsy men dressed in blue jeans came into the store. On their heels poured 23 young Gypsies who fanned out through the store.
"They were running wild," said meat manager Mauk. "They thought if they could cause enough confusion, they could all get away." Someone brought in an infant and one of the four women who had been corralled began to breast-feed the baby. "We thought they had money from the cash box," Allen said. "We thought they were trying to slip it into the baby's diapers.
A bag of groceries tipped over and milk sloshed onto the linoleum floor. In a struggle with a 15-year-old, Allen suffered a bit on the right wrist which punctured the skin.
"When she bit me, I wanted to punch her lights out," Allen said, "but I didn't want to hit a woman, even though it would have released a lot of tension."
About 10 minutes had passed. Allen said when the first police arrived. They had to call backup units. "There were seven squad cars sitting out in front of the store and four plain-clothes officers," he said.
Police said it took more than eight hours to finally get the four women booked later that night. The Gypsies put up a total of $6,000 bond, all in cash, a police spokesman at the Glenmont station said. He said they had gotton the money out of the trunk of one of their cars.
Epilogue. Things have quieted down at the Grand Union over the last three months. Store employes who thought they would have to testify in court three days ago were called and told the Gypsies had jumped bail and the trial was canceled.
"When it was all over it was a lot of laughs," Allen said. "They were going to give me an Armenian chicken to put over the door to keep Gypsies out and when I told him I had been bitten by an irate customer. He got a big laugh out of that.