The "Good Samaritan" car thief -- polite, personable and larcenous -- struck again yesterday, but police say that he may have reached the end of the road.

Maryland State Police said they believe that a captured convict from California may be the well-mannered man responsible for more than 30 recent auto thefts in Baltimore County and the Laurel area.

Police spokesman Chuck Jackson said a man, identified as having escaped in May from custody in California, was arrested yesterday morning after a four-mile chase near Glen Burnie. He was driving a burgundy 1974 Nova that had been reported stolen a few hours earlier in the Arbutus community of Baltimore County.

The arrest follows a series of auto thefts that began in late June and were distinguished by the thief's strategy and manner.

The man often would stop his victim, usually an older woman driver, by warning her of "a wobbly wheel" or a flaming exhaust on her car. When the driver got out to investigate, the man would hop in the car and drive off, taking any cash he could find in the car and abandoning the car later.

The thief's victims repeatedly described him as tall, attractive, well-mannered, "the kind of person you'd believe." He was quickly nicknamed the "Good Samaritan," the "Gentleman Bandit" and the "Excuse me, ma'am" thief.

But the last theft was less polite, resulting in the only known injuries during the spate of crimes.

Jackson said that 59-year-old Mary Beckett was driving her Nova in the Arbutus community at 8:45 a.m. yesterday when a man pulled up beside her and told her she had "a wobbly wheel." The man was driving a white Honda, a car that police later discovered had been reported stolen from the Towson area Thursday night.

Beckett got out of her car and the man jumped behind the wheel. Too late, Beckett realized what was happening and tried to get back in, Jackson said. She was dragged about 20 feet and was treated at St. Agnes Hospital for a broken arm and nose.

Baltimore County police pursued the thief for a while but lost him. He did not turn up again for another three hours, when State Police Cpl. A. Raymond Walker noticed a car matching a description of the stolen Nova in the Chesapeake Square Shopping Center in Glen Burnie.

The driver, noting Walker's interest, took off at high speed through the parking lot. He led police on a brief chase that ended about four miles away when he crashed into a ditch on Old Annapolis Road north of Camp Meade Road. He was not injured.

As of late last night the suspect had not been formally charged. After being brought for questioning to the State Police barracks in Glen Burnie, he was admitted to a hospital for treatment of pneumonia and other infections, authorities said.

Details about his conviction in California and his escape from custody there were unavailable.