At the Chicken George fast-food restaurant on Minnesota Avenue NE, manager Reggie Edloe says two of his night managers "are having psychological problems" worrying about possible holdups. At the nearby Holly Farms fried chicken outlet, manager Sadie Walker says she has been robbed so many times that it now seems almost routine.
Since the beginning of the year, according to police, there have been 37 armed robberies of fast-food restaurants in far Northeast Washington, a wedge of the city east of the Anacostia River that includes a mixture of low- and moderate-income neighborhoods interspersed with tough housing projects.
Police say they believe the 37 robberies may represent an increase for the area, though they are not yet sure. Indeed, such robberies citywide may actually have declined compared to the same period last year, with 80 reported to this point in 1981 and 70 so far this year.
Lt. James Waybright of the police robbery squad said that few of the robberies in far Northeast have resulted in injuries to patrons or employes. But two holdups in particular, both at the same fast-food outlet and both involving apparently unprovoked killings, have created an atmosphere of anxiety that police and civic leaders say is new.
The night of March 16, George T. Knights, a manager at the McDonald's restaurant at 4301 Nannie Helen Burroughs Ave. NE, was shot in the back of the head and killed by a holdup man after handing over money from the restaurant's safe. Two months earlier, a security guard, 36-year-old Michael Crennell, was killed at the same restaurant when a robber fired a sawed-off shotgun into his face.
In the 6th Police District, which includes all of far Northeast and a part of far Southeast from Pennsylvania Avenue north to the Maryland line, 21 carry-out restaurants were robbed in January and 16 in February, according to Deputy Police Chief Isaac Fulwood, commander of the district. He said he now is trying to determine whether this is an increase for the year.
"It's not really a police problem, but a community issue," says Ward 7 City Council Member H.R. Crawford, who represents the area. Crawford said he is concerned that fearful business owners will leave. "We're just going to have to find something new, something innovative."
Crawford suggested that posters of robbery suspects be put up in stores, and added that he plans to introduce an amendment to the city's gun control law that would allow private citizens and store owners to register guns and arm themselves against attack.
Police say fast-food restaurants are easy targets because they are open late at night, they usually have some cash on hand and many of them do not employ security guards. In addition, many are located on major streets that allow easy escape.
Fulwood speculated that the restaurant on Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue is "snakebitten," since the McDonald's chain has a reputation for strict security measures. The restaurant was robbed several times last year as well. Last March, police staked out the restaurant and shot and killed a man during an attempted holdup.
Fulwood blamed the increased crime in his district on growing drug traffic near Central and Southern avenues -- the overflow from the drug-selling areas in Northwest, he called it.
He also criticized the city's "revolving-door justice system," which he said allows release of too many criminals from jail pending trial. Nearly a quarter of all arrests in the city involve persons who are on pretrial release in connection with other crimes, a recent study showed.
Fulwood told a reporter that he is considering putting more officers on foot patrol and setting up roadblocks in high-crime areas, and intends to consult with owners of fast-food restaurants in planning better security. In addition, he said he will ask Mayor Marion Barry and Police Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. for more narcotics officers and robbery stake-out teams.
Crime is a standing item on the agenda of the Central Northeast Civic Association. "People are concerned that they can't walk through the neighborhood at night," said Ethel Onley, president of the association.
Onley, who said she and her husband ate at the Nannie Helen Burroughs McDonald's just an hour before the manager was killed last week, said she wants the police department to pay closer attention to businesses that are robbed repeatedly.
Sadie Walker, the Holly Farms manager who said robbery is becoming routine, said that although the situation frightens her, she plans to stay at the chicken outlet. "Yeah, I'm scared, but I need this job," she said.
A suspect in the slaying of the McDonald's manager was arrested last Friday after police received an anonymous tip that he was staying at an apartment in Southeast. The suspect, David M. Jones, 30, was identified by police as a fugitive from Lorton Reformatory since Jan. 24, when he failed to return from a weekend furlough. He had been serving terms for armed robbery and sodomy, they said.
At the time of Jones' arrest, police said, they seized a .38-caliber revolver stained with red dye and articles of clothing with similar stains. The money taken in the McDonald's robbery and slaying contained a packet of red dye designed to explode and mark the money and robber for identification, police said. Police still are searching for a second suspect in the robbery.