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West Enders Watch for "Gypsies"

West End residents have come to expect the return of the "gypsies" each spring (and sometimes fall), when warm weather entices people to leave doors and windows unlocked, while working in yards or out for a stroll. Often, they say, one thief will ring a doorbell or distract the victim, while another slips in through the back and rifles through jewelry boxes. "They're in and out in under 10, 15 minutes," says police spokeswoman Cynthia Price.

The name "gypsies" seems to have emerged 10 years ago, when 10 to 20 West End homes were robbed while residents worked in their back yards. In three or four of the robberies, two olive-skinned women with braided hair — one apparently in her 40s and heavyset, the other in her late 20s — were seen in the vicinity. Both wore long aprons with pockets, presumably for holding loot.

It's unlikely the same women are still at it. But ever since then, any thief sharing their modus operandi has been deemed a gypsy. One West End woman a few years back attributed to gypsy marauders the theft of $25,000 worth of silver and valuables, which she had just put in a bag to take to her safe deposit box,.

Every spring, police now post Web site warnings about "gypsy" thefts and advice on how to avoid them, Price says. Just lock your doors and be watchful, she says.

In November 1997, some concerned person posted signs around the Windsor Farms neighborhood, reading "GYPSIES ARE BACK." That time, police said there was no proof of the presence of "traveling burglars" — a term they thought was more politically correct, but just didn't stick.

— Melissa Scott

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