The back door of the dilapidated row house in the 1400 block of U Street NW was splattered with bullet holes. District Police Lt. Robert Sheaffer rapped lightly on the back door. "Police, open up!" he shouted after hearing no response to the knock.
Inside, the ground floor apartment stirred with muffled shouts and hurried rustling noises. Metal scraped against metal as a pipe used as a barricade was moved aside.
The door opened on the frames of two hulking men positioned as guards to alert those inside to intruders.
Sheaffer stepped into a dark musty room and followed a narrow hallway into a front bedroom where four men were lounging around a small fuzzy television screen. A tiny woman, who said her name is Ann Crawford, was huddled in a chair.
The "works" were scattered on a nearby table top: a syringe and a soda bottle cap "cooker" used for heating solutions of heroin or mashed diet pills called "Bam."
The apartment in the U Street house is a shooting gallery, a refuge and drug store for junkies who come to buy drugs by the shot, according to police investigators.
Some customers, such as Crawford, say they come because they can no longer inject themselves.
Crawford said that after years of shooting up, the veins in her arms--streaked with aging track marks--have collapsed.
She said she pays the shooting gallery operator to inject the solutions into her neck.
Sheaffer asked her to follow him out into the litter-filled alley behind the house.
"You look like you probably do some boosting," he suggested.
She admitted she had been a booster--a professional shoplifter--off and on for about five years and she agreed to tell her story to a reporter. The police officer walked away.
Crawford said she is 28, the mother of a 6-year-old daughter. She said she has been arrested twice in the District and once in New York for shoplifting, and was placed on probation each time.
"I first started stealing when I was in the 11th grade. I wanted to look nice. I asked my mama for money to buy a new pair of shoes. She wouldn't give it to me so I decided to steal them. And I saw how easy it was," Crawford said.
Crawford said that when she developed a $150 to $200 a day drug habit, she also developed the shoplifting skills to support it.
"You put on a tight girdle and you wear a shift. I can put four dresses up that girdle. You wear men's support hose. You wrap the clothes up and put them in" the hose, she boasted.
"I get my fence before I go out," she said, describing the years she hit suburban department stores on an almost daily basis and then sold whatever items that she had stolen to dealers in Washington. "I call them and say 'I'm going to work, you want me to get you anything?'
"They say 'Get me three pairs of slacks' or whatever. You get what your customers want," she said.
Crawford said she averaged $250 to $300 in profits from stolen merchandise. "I could make that within three hours."
On this sunny day she is dressed in a skimpy red short-sleeved blouse and shorts.
"I wouldn't go stealing like this. You go dressed conservative. You go to the expensive stores," she said.
"You don't see me stealing," she said, big dark eyes darting.
"You have in mind what you want when you go in there the stores . You use common sense."
Crawford said she has not shoplifted for fences since last June when, she said, she entered a methadone clinic, although she said she still visits the U Street shooting gallery two or three times a week.
"I don't steal no more to buy drugs, but I steal for me," she said. "I'll see something I want and I can have the money for it in my pocket, and I'll still steal that item if I can. I don't know why . . . I'm spoiled."
Sheaffer said Crawford's story is like others he has heard. "That's how easy it shoplifting is. All it takes is somebody with a strong drive . . . "