Dear PoPville – Mystery late-night knocker

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Dear PoPville,

A very odd thing occurred Monday night / early Tuesday morning around 1:30am on the 1300 block of U Street. What sounded like an inebriated slurring woman “Rachel,” climbed the 3-story fire escape to my building, and was knocking on random doors because she just “wanted to ask a question.” In talking through the door, she said that she only lived a few blocks away, was unarmed, and wasn’t violent. In thinking with a security mindset, I was wondering about the potential for a burglar to use a recording to persuade themselves into a place at that hour. I didn’t open the door, but asked that she get home safe and I called 911 to follow-up. I couldn’t get a visual on the person and the police (who responded quickly) weren’t able to find her or anyone else suspicious behind the block.

I just wanted to pass on the info to PoP to see if anyone else either knows a Rachel (to get her help) or has heard of a situation where this was used to break into a place.

Ed. Note: In Feb. 2012 there was a vicious assault in Ledroit Park where: “A female knocked on the victim’s front door and acted as if she was crying. When the victim opened the door 2 male suspects forced their way in to the house.”

69 Comment

  • Sounds suspicious.

    In my experience, complete strangers who approach me saying (sometimes repeatedly) that they want to ask a question — rather than just ASKING the question — usually follow up with a direct request for money, or a sob story about how they need x amount for gas/Metro.

    • +1.

      I agree, it sounds suspicious. It’s creepy, call 911 and let them check out the situation. Glad that you are alright. I’m wondering if a person is inebriated, could they have it together enough to climb a 3 story fire escape?

      • Totally possible. A few years ago the same thing happened to me. My bedroom was off a third floor fire escape. I heard a girl outside my door, who was asking if she could come in and see “Chris.” I told her through the barred door that no Chris lived there. She was clearly inebriated and probably on drugs- she was holding her high heels up to her chest and was disoriented. Anyway, my roommates and I remained calm, called the police, and they handled it. She ended up being taken away by the police. It was actually a good thing she knocked on our door, because who knows what would have happened if some wierdo saw her in that state.

    • City rule: Never answer the door if someone you aren’t expecting knocks. Doesn’t matter what time of day. If they have a cell phone they’ll call you, if they don’t there a mooching a$$ broke bamma. Never speak to them at your door unless you know them. If a stranger continues to knock, call the cops on them. This is the way you stay safe. Besides, it prevents annoying friends from stopping by unexpectedly and interrupting your underwear time.

      • hay native DCer!

      • LOL @ underwear time. I hate when people stop by unexpectedly. Most people know that about me though and won’t.

      • Emmaleigh504

        The mailman always interrupts my underwear time grr. It’s actually nightgown time, but same diff. Can’t he just leave the package by the door and not knock on Saturday mornings?

        No my night gown is not sexy in the least, so I doubt he does it for the view.

      • underwear time, lol

  • I live on 11th St in Columbia Heights and had a somewhat similar creepy situation. Last night around midnight I heard what sounded like knocking on the front door of my rowhouse. It was enough to wake the dog who reacted by starting to growl and bark. Not being keen to answer the door, I looked out of my (2nd story) window a few moments later and saw what appeared to be a very drunk/high/crazy woman standing a few feet away from my house kind of staring into the distance and swaying/rocking.

    I wasn’t sure what to do in this situation. From what I could tell, she stood on the sidewalk for maybe 10 minutes, then after that was gone. Very VERY creepy and weird. I hope whoever is doing this stuff and get some help and stop creeping people out!

    • As someone who lives on 11th St., just out curiosity where (about) is your house?

    • I had a similar scenario happen at my place at 11th and Monroe, she rang my bell for about 45 minutes until I finally called the cops. She left before they arrived though. She was definitely high and kept asking for a name that I couldn’t understand.

    • If a drunk crazy stranger is knocking on your door and doesn’t leave you call 911. Why wait for a crime to occur?

  • I think the OP is a far kinder person than I would have been in that situation. I would have told the drunk to get the H— away from my door, my fire escape, and my building. I would have told her that there was no Rachel there, and I would have had no concern whether this person got home safe or not. I have no time for random people, drunk or not, invading my space like this. And if I knew Rachel I would tell he to control her friends.

    Have you looked at your fire escape to see if it can be secured against future visitors?

  • I’m inclined to think it was just a drunk (or high) person. If it were a scheme to get into your apartment she would have had provided a more compelling/urgent reason to get in.

  • “I was wondering about the potential for a burglar to use a recording to persuade themselves into a place at that hour.”

    Is this a joke?

    • Yeah, if they are that smart they need to work for the CIA and not steal my playstation.

      • Actually this is a very reasonable fear. There are websites that explain how to do exactly this – and even provide sample clips. Don’t ask me how I know this…

        • +1 When I was in college there were a series of attacks of someone who had used a recording of a crying baby to lure women outside before attacking them. So nope, SF, this is not a joke, and I’d recommend moving out of your cave.

          • Oh come now. You can’t think this is common enough to be considered a rational fear.

            Sounds like my mother who refuses to flash her lights at people who haven’t turned on theirs, as they will of course turn around and kill her as part of a gang initiation.

          • Emmaleigh504

            The baby crying to lure women out is an urban legend. Snopes is your friend. Also, the serial killer in Louisiana in the early aughts did not use this tactic no matter what Reed on Criminal Minds says.

          • @emmaleigh: It was an urban legend, yes, which a really effed up man took it upon himself to make into a reality about 10 years ago. It was pretty messed up. And @SF, yes, I think it’s a pretty damn rational fear for any of the victims that survived the attacks.

          • It’s not that it’s “common” or something to “fear.” In fact it’s wildly unlikely. But, it’s certainly possible, and not wildly unlikely. Just ask the woman on Elm Street in Ledroit Park who answered the door to a girl begging for help a few months ago and got beaten and robbed as a result. The smart move is keep the door shut.

    • I know, right? Usually the simplest explanation is the correct one. I’m willing to bet it was simply a drunk woman, rather than a guy who got a woman to record drunken statements for him so he could break into an apartment building and use it to get into someone’s apartment (banking on the assumption that the residents don’t have peepholes, or will crack open the door with the chain on, and see who it really is).

    • Maybe it was a ventriloquist, or that black guy from Police Academy.

  • I’m pretty sure it was the Grim Reaper.

  • thebear

    My building has had a number of similar instances in the last year where people dial codes from the entrance comm panel (which rings the resident’s phone). it has been guys or gals who sounded upset and would mumble to make it sound like distortion on the line, and want to be buzzed in. Usually 2:30-3AM. I’ve gotten these calls twice. Begged me to open the door to let him in because he didn’t have his keys. Told him to ring the desk code or knock and the attendant would take care of him. Cussed at me until the call timed-out. I alerted our desk person and management but they have yet to catch the person.

    • Oh, I never thought about that being nefarious. I live in southern Columbia Heights and someone called me from my apartment call box at 2:30 am on a Monday morning a few weeks ago asking to be let in because her mother wasn’t answering. She sounded too old to anyone I would recognize living with her mother in my building. I eventually hung up on her and regretted ever answering.

      • thebear

        She might have come to check on her mother in person if she hadn’t been able to reach her for a while. The correct way to handle the situation (if they don’t know any of the person’s neighbors or building staff) is for the concerned person to call the police and ask them to do a wellness check.

        If you have a senior relative or friend (or someone with medical problems), make it a point to at least have day/night contact information for the building manager/front desk, and for them to have your information in case of an emergency or not being able to reach the person. Younger folks may think it’s stupid or irrelevant but not only old people fall and can’t get up or summon help.

      • I just don’t answer calls from our front door late at night – it’s never a legit call. Anyone I know would call me directly first. Who ever it is downstairs tryign to scam their way in is out of luck, with me anyhow.

    • This has been happening more regularly at my building in CH (on 13th) more and more frequently. The most recent was someone dialing through all the unit listings on the call box at 3:30 or 3:45 am for about 20 minutes. I was woken up after missing a few calls over a 10 minute period, answered, and someone was asking for “Chris.” I said he had the wrong number and hung up. Not 5 minutes later, the same person called and asked to be let in to find Chris. I threatened to call the cops and in hindsight I wish I had.

      I feel like this is a common method to try to get into a building and look for open units. As a single woman who lives alone, I am especially fearful of someone letting a possibly nefarious stranger into the building thinking he or she are looking for a friend. I think it’s better to be safe than sorry in these circumstances. Frankly, if some innocent drunk idiot DID get too wasted to remember where his or her friend lived and woke up half the building trying to find that person, I’d think a visit from the cops would convince him or her to keep his or her shit together when navigating a city as a visitor.

      • thebear

        You needn’t be a single woman living alone to be concerned about strangers being let in. 7 or 8 years ago, someone buzzed in an EDP in the wee hours of a Sunday morning who vandalized one of the elevators, walls and mirrors on several floors, and discharged half the of the building’s hall fire extinguishers, and tried to start a fire in the elevator bay on one floor. The person went past the desk attendant on the way in and out and was seen on the lobby security footage. After that incident, we got management to require all visitors sign-in at the desk and be verified by phone with the resident, even if they were buzzed in. That works, of course, only if the attendant is there when someone comes in or the attendant is astute enough to realize someone doesn’t live here if they piggyback on someone else going in or out.

    • Wow, I lived in Mt.P a few years ago and someone did that to me.
      Whoever it was did not get in that night!

  • This was the alternative, final episode of Friends.

  • I bet it was just some drunk who got the wrong house. I woke up one Saturday night/Sunday morning to a drunk guy stomping up and down my fire escape trying to get into each of the three doors and yelling to be let in. I called the cops who responded quickly. It turns out he was visiting from out of town, his phone died, and he thought my house was the house his friends with whom he was staying. It definitely freaked me out at the time but turned out to be just a lost drunk.

  • Sadly even if the person really did need help you could never open the door. See every episode of The Wire for examples of this.

    Just every episode including a different situation in which Omar finagles his way into a Barksdale stash house and makes off a bag of red tops.

    • thebear

      Always have your phone in hand if answering an unexpected knock at the door. If someone says they need help, tell them you’ll call 911 for them, and immediately do so. Do not open the door under any circumstances. Even if the person is legit you don’t want to risk being rushed or shot at. Also, stand aside from the door and away from windows or thin outer walls…if someone out there has a gun, you do not want to risk it. And, for goodness sake, don’t open the door a few minutes later, thinking if it’s quiet that the coast is clear.

  • okay…but what the f building are you talking about? i live at 1301 u street (the ellington), and there’s no fire escape. and i’m pretty certain there’s no residential housing anywhere else on the block. going down the block: ellignton, alley, liquor store (with business above), art gallary (all the way up), that awful club (all the way up), abandoned building (with windows busted out on top), patty place, subway (restaurant/bar above). other side of block, businesses (with tattoo shop above), alley, restaurants/bars (with second floors), rite aid. the end.

    so…haha, maybe i find your question odd and suspicious??

    • There are residences down (almost, with the exception of Tabaq and Touchdown) the entire south side of the 1300 block of U Street

      • oh, I always assumed that since tabaq, touchdown, etc. went to the top, they all did. well, now i know.

    • The Ellington isn’t the only place to live on the block. There are apartments above Bistro la Bonne and Desperados and one other building with apartments, closer to Creme cafe. It was probably one of those buildings.

    • Hi fellow Ellington-er!! I also had trouble figuring out where this post was referring to. Unless they meant along 13th and near U…

  • No one knocks on my door in Arlington 🙂

  • Amazing how the “right” person affects one’s common sense. Call the damn police.

    • Read the post. The person did call the police.

      • I don’t really think an inebriated woman who has the wrong apartment is worth calling the police on, unless she is acting violent or vandalizing the building. A lot of us have been in a state of druken confusion at some time in our lives and wouldn’t have wanted to be arrested for it. Do unto others and all that…

        • Once the drunk climbs the fire escape and is knocking on doors or windows, it’s immediately time for the cops. I don’t care if it started with an innocent mistake, it’s time for the professionals to end it. If nothing else, it’s for the good of the drunk – just because s/he can climb up doesn’t mean they can get back down safely.

  • My place was burglarized in the LeDroit/Shaw area a couple months ago. There was a huge party in the building so the burglarers snuck in pretty easily and from what I assume knocked harmlessly on my door to see if anyone was home. Once they realized no one was home they broke down the door and stole a bunch of stuff. I would argue that revealing you are home, having a dog or some sort of noise is important to let the possible intruder know there is something behind that door they don’t want to deal with…

    On a separate note I was pretty upset with the police handling of my situtation. They took over an hour and a half to arrive and take down our report. They said they could send someone to “finger-print” but that all the forensics people were busy and it could be 2-3 hours. It was already 2:30 AM and I was pretty exhausted. I said is it possible for them to come the next day and they said yes. I played incoherent phone tag with them the next day and when 2 cops finally came and checked on us they said “too much time had passed for prints to be collected.”

    If the cops don’t try to investigate how are we supposed to start securing our city and stopping these criminals?

    • The same thing happened to me! I was in bed when the guys knocked on my door, and I felt uncomfortable being there alone (roommate wasn’t home) so I snuck out and spent the night with a friend. Meanwhile they bent the window bars and got in. I should have stayed and made it obvious I was there. Same terrible response from the cops too.

  • I think I’ve read on here (and I thought it seemed like excellent advice) that if you get a stranger knocking that you’re not expecting (no matter what hour but especially true of late/early/odd hours), turn on lights so that they think someone is home. Dial 911 and have them check it out. Definitely do not open door. Not sure on the part about whether to try to talk through the door or window and don’t know if the answer would differ if you are male/female or mutliples at home/single or alone.

    • thebear

      Another bit of common sense that the news reports being ignored all too often: Make sure your doors, windows and patios are locked. If you have windows accessible from the street or a fire escape, have fire department/code-compliant anti-burglary bars or folding gates on them. Garden apartments should have security door gates for front/back doors; sliding glass doors should have shatter-resistant glass and one of those track locks that prevents the door from sliding open. And, for goodness sake if your home’s entrance doors have only a knob-lock get a good-rated deadbolt added.

      • What’s a track lock?

      • Most of this sounds good, but I’m not sure about putting “fire department/code-compliant anti-burglary bars or folding gates” on all accessible windows.

        I wouldn’t go to the extreme of removing existing window bars, but on a block where most people have bars on accessible windows on the _back_ of the house but not the front, isn’t it somewhat extreme to add window bars?

        Or maybe what you’re recommending isn’t quite the same as what I’m visualizing. What are “folding gates” in this context?

  • Holy crap – haven’t you guys been watching the news recently? This disoriented “woman” was obviously a zombie coming to eat your face and/or brains!

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