Residents of Elizabeth Lake Road, many of whom moved to the remote mountains of northern Los Angeles County to escape big-city crime, are on edge after several hundred mailboxes were vandalized and mail was stolen recently.
"This is an ugly situation. These people are very upset--nothing like this has ever happened to them before," said Jeanette Marshall, who runs the small post office in Elizabeth Lake.
About 400 mailboxes have been damaged and the mail from many others has been tampered with this week in the mountain communities of Elizabeth Lake and Lake Hughes, Marshall said.
"We've never had anything like this before and I've been postmaster 12 years," Marshall said. "In the summer we've had some vandalism, but nothing on this scale."
In the past, mailboxes were often vandalized by rowdy youths "who bang up a couple boxes--but this was a major operation," Marshall said. "It looks like somebody did this with a baseball bat or a hammer."
Most of the vandalism and thefts occurred between 10 p.m. Tuesday and 4:30 a.m. Wednesday along a 15-mile stretch of Elizabeth Lake Road from 90th Street in Leona Valley to Ranch Club Road in Elizabeth Lake, she said. About 75 mailboxes were so badly damaged that residents were forced to pick up their mail at the post office.
"This is the second time it's happened to me," said Robert Zwart, 28, who had his box knocked over and smashed. "Just about everybody in this area right here had their box destroyed. Some people had their box turned into flattened metal."
Zwart, who is in the process of selling his house on Elizabeth Lake Road near Johnson Road, set up a new mailbox Friday. But some residents have decided to rent post office boxes to avoid further problems.
"It's an extra four miles to drive down and get your mail but we have to do something," said Michael Foxworth, 42, whose mailbox was also vandalized twice recently.
Residents have also been plagued by mail thefts, Marshall said. Four times in the past two weeks, mail has been stolen from 15 to 20 boxes. Much of it was found later by the roadside.
Shelley Mathews, who lives on Palmdale Boulevard near Lake Elizabeth Road, not only had mail stolen but found open letters intended for others stuffed in her mailbox.
"Some lady from the Leona Valley had her stolen bills in my box," she said.
Marshall said thieves look for credit-card bills in order to steal the card number and also target income-tax refunds or other checks that might be easy to cash.
"They usually just throw away what they don't want or sometimes they're nice enough to put it in someone else's box," Marshall said.
Both mailbox destruction and theft are federal offenses that could draw sentences of up to 10 years in prison, postal officials said.
The incidents are under investigation by postal inspectors and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, said Marshall, who believes the vandalism and thefts are unrelated.
But for many residents, who leave the area early to commute to work in the San Fernando or Antelope valleys, there is a feeling that the problems of the city--along with more serious crimes--are beginning to follow them home.
"You move all the way up here to get away from all that and it just comes right up and bites you in the back of the neck," Foxworth said.