At least one suspect is in custody in a string of carjackings and robberies police say have been plaguing the west metro area for months, but Wauwatosa police say there are more people involved, and they're working closely with Milwaukee police to zero in on them.
For one Wauwatosa mother, a roundup of the gang thought to be commiting the crimes can't come too soon.
In mid-November, her 17-year-old daughter was the victim of a cajacking in Wauwatosa outside Sendik's on North Avenue. And just Saturday night, three of her 19-year-old daughter's best friends were robbed and carjacked at gunpoint outside Famous Cigar near 71st and North.
According to Wauwatosa police, the suspected carjacker in that incident was arrested later Saturday night after he used the stolen car to commit another robbery in Milwaukee.
Police investigating the November incident developed several suspects known to be committing crimes in East Tosa, nearby parts of Milwaukee and at least one robbery in West Allis. The perpetrators — at least half a dozen young men and boys, one only 14 years old — are working mainly out of the Sherman Park area, investigators say.
While police are not yet ready to say for certain that the suspect arrested Saturday is part of that ring, he, at any rate, is also a suspect in at least four more recent robberies.
Girl pulled from her car after work
Jennifer Kois said her 17-year-old daughter was distraught when she called home the night of Nov. 14. She needed the license number of the family's second car, quick.
She told her mom she'd just been carjacked.
Shortly after 8 p.m., she had just gotten off work and was walking to her car, a 1995 Nissan Sentra. Like a good employee, she'd parked on Pasadena Boulevard so as not to take up space in the customer lot.
She got into her car, she said, and was looking down at her phone when her door was pulled open and someone grabbed her by the arm and said, "Get out of the car."
She told police that in the instant, she thought a friend was playing a trick on her.
It was no friend, and no trick. The assailant grabbed her arm with both hands and pulled her out of her car, then demanded her keys. She had put them on the passenger seat, and she told him so. The man got into her car, and she asked him if she could have her phone. "You're not getting anything," he said.
He shut the door, and then a second man appeared and jumped into the passenger seat. The victim turned around and noticed a car waiting nearby. As both took off, she memorized the license number of the second car, ran back into Sendik's, wrote it down, and called police.
That second car proved to be stolen.
"She's an amazing girl," Kois said. "She's just been through this terrifying thing, and to be able to get the license number and then remember it while she's running back to the store ...
"She was distraught – and yet composed."
Gun used in carjacking over weekend
At about 7:45 Saturday night, Kois said, and a Wauwatosa police report confirms, three young men, all close friends of Kois' older daughter, were riding together when the driver decided to stop to buy cigarettes at Famous Cigar, 7030 W. North Ave.
He parked not on the well-lighted avenue but on the nearest side street, North 71st.
When he came out of the store and was just getting back to his car, he told police, a man ran up to him from behind, pointed a gun at him and said, "Give me everything you've got."
Before he could comply, he said, the man grabbed him by the collar of his jacket, dragged him off the sidewalk and onto a snow-covered yard, and threw him to the ground. Then he pulled him back upright and again demanded his property.
The victim, a 19-year-old Wauwatosa man, fearing for his life, turned over his car keys, cell phone and wallet.
The robber got into his car not realizing there were two more men inside. He looked startled, they said, but quickly raised the gun and demanded their property, too.
Both of them, a 19-year-old living on the east side of Milwaukee and a 20-year-old from Brown Deer, jumped out of the car and ran, leaving backpacks full of property behind.
Family's 'wings clipped' by loss of second car
Less than three hours later, that stolen car, a 1998 Honda Accord, was recognized during a Milwaukee police pursuit following a street robbery in the 4500 block of North 77th Street in which two purses were stolen.
Police spotted the car and gave chase, and it was abandoned in an alley in the 2800 block of North 76th Street, not far from Enderis Park and just north of the Wauwatosa border. The suspect was captured later that night, and the 19-year-old Wauwatosa victim would get his car back, undamaged, as soon as police finished processing it for evidence.
Not so for Jenny Kois and her daughters. After 2-½ months, the mother of three teenage girls, 15, 17 and 19, has not gotten her "old beater" back.
"That's one of the strangest things," Kois said in an interview Monday. "They tell me that most cars like that are found — usually pretty soon. I mean, it's an old car!"
But not hide or hair of the Sentra has been seen, and that's a source of ongoing irritation for the family.
"We're still frustrated by this," Kois said. "We saved up for this $2,000 car for them, so they'd have a way to get around to all the things they do. We'd only had it about 2-½ months.
"And she (the victim) is such an outstanding big sister, she was driving her little sister everywhere."
Her middle daughter, Kois said, is a senior at Tosa West High. "Her wings are clipped," she said. Kois herself is again running a daily taxi service, getting them to school and work and back.
A sense of violation on top of frustration
As for her daughter's state of mind, Kois said, she feels "violated in her thoughts of safety" after the crime.
Kois accompanied her daughter to view a police photo lineup — she was unable to make an identification — and then a live suspect lineup in Milwaukee. That was not quite the private affair she and her daughter were expecting.
"They had at least six suspects," she said, along with all the stand-ins, "and there were also at least five other victims there, too. I think they were all victims of robberies or carjackings."
Again, her daughter was unable to identify her assailant from any one of three lineups. She said she just didn't get a clear mental picture of him in her mind.
Among her worries: "Her phone, with all her contacts, her driver's license with her address, they got all of that," Kois said. "Now, I don't think these people want all of that. But it's just how she feels, knowing they've got it."
Kois said she drives by Sendik's on her way to work every day.
"I've been by there a hundred times, and I look at it, in retrospect, very differently," Kois said. "She parked in a spot that's a little darker, away from street lights. I guess they are looking for that situation. These are crimes of opportunity.
Kois said that Sendik's has been "marvelous" in the wake of the crime. Management has been escorting employees and even late customers to their cars after dark.
"Those are the types of things," Kois said, "that I guess people ought to think about and be alert to."