For the second time in three years, vandals have broken into the home of a black couple in Agoura, caused thousands of dollars in damage and left behind a spray-painted red swastika, authorities said.
Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies are investigating the possibility that the people who broke into the home of Szebelski L. and Matilda Freeman are “skinheads,” white racist youths who espouse a neo-Nazi ideology, or are “sympathetic to that cause,” said sheriff’s Detective Imon Mills.
The intruders slashed chairs, spray-painted walls and curtains, threw photographs and flower pots and overturned kitchen appliances, causing an estimated $30,000 in damage, Mills said. “This is really maliciously done,” he said.
The vandals also overturned an aquarium and placed the fish in a bowl filled with manure. “My God,” said Freeman, 67, while looking at the damage Thursday. “What sickness is this?” Freeman reported the damage to sheriff’s deputies when he discovered it Wednesday night but was asked not to begin cleaning up until authorities could examine the scene.
Deputies suspect that the same people were involved in a similar incident in October, 1987, that caused an estimated $7,000 in damage to the Freeman home, which is in the upper-middle-class neighborhood of Saratoga Ranch. The house was flooded with water from a garden hose and walls were spray-painted with red swastikas and racist slurs, said Mills, who also investigated that incident.
Mills said he suspects that the Freeman vandals also were responsible for a July 2 incident in which an Agoura Hills house inhabited by a family of Middle Eastern descent was broken into and its walls spray-painted with unintelligible black and red scrawls.
Wednesday’s incident occurred between 1 p.m. and 9 p.m., Mills said, when Szebelski Freeman was out running errands. The criminals also stole a television and an original painting titled “Blacks,” together valued at $3,500.
Freeman said his wife and his twin grandchildren, who live in the house, had returned Thursday afternoon after several days away on a church retreat.
A retired real estate broker, Freeman said he believes the vandals targeted him rather than other black residents of Saratoga Ranch because his house is on a corner and thus is visible as “an example.”
Residents of the predominantly white community said they believe the vandals are outsiders. They expressed a mix of anger and fear.
“It just makes me sick to my stomach,” said Dorna Johnson, 16, a member of one of about five black families in the neighborhood of 49 houses.
“It’s scary, it’s sad, and it’s infuriating,” said Ann Rothstein, who is white and has lived with her family across the street from the Freemans for two years.
Although they described their community as generally safe, residents noted that they are not strangers to vandalism with racist overtones.
Several residents said that in the past three years white teen-agers have frightened children of various races by yelling and throwing rocks at them. Johnson said she was the victim of such an attack when she was home from school alone.
A six-foot beige brick wall surrounding parts of Saratoga Ranch has been sprayed with swastikas three times in as many years, most recently two weeks ago, said Glenn Carlson.
“It scares my wife,” said Carlson, who is white but whose wife is black. He said he keeps handy a can of paint the same color as the neighborhood wall. “It makes me angry. I just want to catch them.”
Szebelski Freeman said Thursday night that with the help of neighbors, he and his family had cleaned up the debris that littered their house.
Asked whether he would remain in his house, he said, “Yes,” as if the answer were obvious. “I’m not afraid. They picked the wrong one to frighten.”