He looked innocent enough when he knocked on South Bay doors and gave residents a friendly wave and a smile.
Twice, the neatly dressed man handed the women who answered their doors a small bottle and asked to analyze a sample of their tap water. Another time, he said he was selling insurance.
But Deputy Dist. Atty. Julie Sulman told Torrance Superior Court jurors that Steven Thomas Jones, 27, was not at all what he claimed to be.
During her opening argument at Jones’ trial on 19 felony charges, Sulman said Jones invaded seven houses, savagely beat several women and raped one young victim before smashing a typewriter into her face. On each occasion during his seven-month crime spree, she said, Jones took cash, guns, electronic equipment and jewelry from the houses.
But Oksana R. Bihun, Jones’ attorney, said Jones is a victim of overzealous investigators too willing to blame a series of crimes on Jones, who she said committed only the last two of the robberies for which he has been charged.
Sulman said the crimes began in Torrance on Oct. 28, 1988, when a woman, who was home alone cooking dinner for her family, answered a knock on her front door. The man at the door asked her to fill a small plastic bottle with tap water so he could analyze it and try to sell her a water purification system.
She did so, but when she bent down to fill out the card the man had handed her, he beat her in the head with a crescent wrench and left her unconscious and bleeding in her front entryway, Sulman said. The robber snatched her necklace and carried out a television, cash, a gun and other jewelry.
Her husband found her several hours later, Sulman said. She has undergone neurosurgery and requires seizure-control medication.
The second incident occurred on Jan. 9, 1989, as a 22-year-old Manhattan Beach woman returned to her house after attending classes at El Camino College, Sulman said.
Shortly after the woman walked into her house, she answered a knock on her door. As she opened it, a man forced his way in, threw her to the floor, hogtied her with a surfboard leash and blindfolded her with a pair of tights, Sulman said.
The robber, who ransacked the house, raped the woman and then beat her in the face and head with a typewriter. She survived.
The next day, a Gardena woman answered a knock at her door. The man standing on her doorstep offered to sell her insurance.
Distracted when her telephone rang, the woman turned away and the man pushed inside, knocked her to the floor and yanked off her necklace. Sulman said the man fled when the woman’s 5-year-old son opened the kitchen door.
In March, 1989, a robber pretending to be a water salesman tricked a housekeeper into letting him into a house on 186th Street on Torrance, Sulman said. He hit her on the head, tied her hands and feet, and put a pillowcase over her head before ransacking the house. He also tied up a 5-year-old girl in the house, Sulman said.
A month later, Sulman said, the man followed a 71-year-old woman into her Calle Mayor home in Torrance as she carried groceries from her car. He tied her hands with picture wire, ransacked the house and walked out with a briefcase full of valuables, Sulman said. The woman was not injured.
The robberies ended the morning of May 18, 1989, Sulman said, when Jones grabbed 71-year-old Dorothy Twombly around the neck and held a gun to her head as she cleaned out her car in the driveway of her Manhattan Beach house.
When she began screaming, Jones beat her with the gun and dragged her into the house, Sulman said. He left her unconscious inside the door as he rummaged through the house, Sulman said.
Twombly came to and ran from her house. Sulman said Jones fled as neighbors responded to her cries, and he hid in a nearby garage.
When Dewey Bagley, 76, walked into his garage, Jones held the gun near his head and pulled the trigger, Sulman said. Bagley suffered powder burns to his face and neck.
Jones tied Bagley with an electrical cord, stole his wallet, took his car keys and went into Bagley’s house, Sulman said. Bagley freed himself just as Jones drove off in Bagley’s car, Sulman said.
Several minutes later, two Hawthorne detectives who had heard a police broadcast describing the car spotted it on Inglewood Avenue.
Jones abandoned the car in the 14300 block of Cerise Avenue, ran into a house and pleaded with a teen-ager living there to hide him, Sulman said. The boy locked Jones in a closet and flagged down police.
Although Bihun acknowledged to jurors that Jones had confessed to robbing Twombly and Bagley, she said he was not involved in the other crimes.