The "hot prowl" burglar who crept into more than 200 San Fernando Valley houses this year while their occupants slept has apparently been spotted in Bakersfield, possibly while on his way to hide out in the Sierra Nevada, police said Wednesday.
Police said Eric Ross Baer has a unusual approach to residential burglary: he feeds homeowners' dogs, pampering them into silence; sometimes he raids the refrigerator; usually, he makes off with wallets, purses and other small items.
Detective Sandra Palmer said Los Angeles police believe the 30-year-old Baer, an avid outdoorsman and sometimes handyman, may be headed to the High Sierra, where he previously has gone hiking and backpacking. She said a tipster, who was among dozens of callers who responded Wednesday to publicized appeals for help, told police that Baer was treated Tuesday at Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield for a hand injury.
He is believed to have sustained the injury during the latest rash of break-ins when three Northridge homes just a few blocks apart were hit early Monday morning, Palmer said. About $150 in cash and a camera were taken.
Palmer described Baer as "cocky and arrogant" and said he "flaunted himself," continuing to burglarize Valley homes even after he knew police were looking for him.
Arrest warrants totaling $150,000 were issued this week, accusing Baer of burglarizing occupied dwellings within the Devonshire and Van Nuys divisions of the Los Angeles Police Department. He also is suspected of similar break-ins in the West San Fernando Valley and North Hollywood, Palmer said.
In all, police believe Baer carried out nearly 220 burglaries since January, all of them "hot prowls," police jargon for burglaries of occupied buildings. Baer preferred to enter through rear windows or garages while the residents of the homes were asleep. And, he may be a suspect in as many as 100 other break-ins that occurred during the last six months of 1992.
"He's been capering at least twice a week since July, 1992," Palmer said. And each night Baer "capers," she said, he allegedly breaks into two or three homes.
"He's good," Palmer conceded.
Police said Baer has a way with homeowners' animals. Even dogs, which many homeowners consider the ultimate burglar alarm, don't bark at him.
"He feeds them. He pets them. He doesn't display fear," Palmer said. As a result, the pampered pets don't awaken their owners.
If Baer's hungry, he raids the refrigerator, she said.
Usually, Baer makes off with wallets, purses and other small items "that catch his fancy," Palmer said. He appears to have a fondness for hardware, camping gear and electronic gadgets. For example, Palmer said, officers who searched Baer's truck, apartment and storage locker last month recovered three stolen electronic organizers. They were able to trace the owners through their electronic date books.
Police also found snapshots of Baer in various locales, including some where he is wearing a backpack, hiking up a mountain path and grinning as he looks back over his shoulder. Police believe he was sleeping in the wild during the last few weeks of his burglary spree, using skills he developed through his hobbies: hiking, backpacking and rock climbing.
Baer allegedly prowls suburban neighborhoods between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. and prefers single-family homes with back yards that abut alleys, parks or undeveloped lots. Frequently, Palmer said, he makes his getaway on a mountain bike.
Investigators in four of the the Valley's five LAPD divisions first began to notice similarities among a rash of burglaries during the summer. Palmer said police identified Baer as a suspect by using fingerprints lifted in the burglarized homes which matched those taken when Baer was arrested and convicted in June, 1986, of a misdemeanor trespassing charge. He served 22 days in jail and was on probation for two years for that conviction, Palmer said.
In late July and early August, police tried to close the net on Baer, but twice he eluded capture. Once, officers staked out his truck, but the vehicle was equipped with motion sensors that bathed the officers in light when they moved in, Palmer said. Police impounded the vehicle, which was loaded with Baer's possessions because he was being evicted from his Balboa Boulevard apartment.
As evidence of his self-assurance, Baer called the station to ask how he could get the truck back, but never came in for it, Palmer said.
Meanwhile, the burglaries continued--right up to Monday morning, police believe. Later in the day, they became frustrated with their behind-the-scenes approach and began to publicize their search for Baer.
Palmer said Baer should be considered armed and dangerous because some guns have been taken during the burglaries. She added that Baer has vowed to a member of his family that police will never take him alive.
Now that his name and picture have been publicized in media accounts, Baer is believed headed toward the Sierra Nevada to hide out, Palmer said.
Police agencies and rangers have been notified in Lone Pine, Bishop and other Sierra communities that Baer has frequented in the past, receipts police found during their searches of his possessions indicate.
In Bakersfield, hospital spokeswoman Karen Grim said she could find no record of anyone named Eric Baer being treated. But, she said, it's possible he used another name.
Palmer said detectives are taking the tip that he was seen there seriously