THE THIEF STRIKES
Around 8:15 on the night of January 22, 1969, James Perry, his wife Shirley and their 17-year-old daughter Linda, were at home watching television together. Suddenly, a man with a stocking over his face walked into their living room. He was brandishing a .38 caliber revolver. At gunpoint, the man ordered the Perry family to lie on the floor. He tied the parents hands and feet together with an electric chord and covered them with a sheet.
He told Linda he would assault her unless she cooperated. He ordered Linda to show him around the house. For more than an hour, he searched the house with Linda, making vulgar remarks at her, she later told police.
He then ordered Linda to sit by the front window, where she could watch for her 14-year-old sister Patty, who was expected home. When Patty arrived, he locked both girls in the trunk of one of the Perry’s cars, after taking $250 from the home and a diamond ring belonging to Shirley. He then escaped into the night in a second Perry family car, which was later found abandoned several miles away.
Before he left the house, the man told the Perry family he was the “Thief of Baghdad.” The Perry family described the bandit as an African American man, around 25 years old, six feet tall, and weighing around 160 pounds. He wore a stocking over his head and gloves on his hands
The next day, January 23, 1969, a front page story appeared in the San Antonio Light newspaper with the headline “Thief of Baghdad Strikes Again.”
The San Antonio Light’s story was the first detailed media account of the criminal who called himself the “Thief of Baghdad.”
The San Antonio Light story also said it was the second known incident involving him: “The bandit . . . is believed to be the same “Thief of Baghdad” who broke into a near North Side apartment house two months ago and robbed two young married couples.” [North Side Family Terrorized, page 1, January 23, 1969, San Antonio Light]
For the next four months, the “Thief of Baghdad’s” crime spree gripped San Antonio residents with fear.
One newspaper called the hunt for the “Thief of Baghdad” the most massive manhunt in the history of nearly 300 individuals and business firms San Antonio is now under way . . . determined to stop the ~ “Thief of Baghdad.”
He came along at a time when the city had two major daily newspapers competing for headlines, as well as three local TV news stations fighting for ratings. Both the police department, as well as both of the city’s daily newspapers, began offering cash rewards for tips to catch him. [Baghdad’ reward up to $1,500,” San Antonio Express, page 1, April 6, 1969]
Police speculated that he may have been responsible for as many as 11 to 15 robberies, as well as two rapes and one attempted rape, and two murders. The “Thief of Baghdad’s” methods were usually the same. He would break into homes at night while the family was there. Then he would tie up or subdue members of the family, robbing them. Several times he raped or attempted to rape female members of the families. Most of his criminal activities took place on the east, north and northwest sections of San Antonio.
In a newspaper article in the San Antonio Express, police officials called the “Thief of Baghdad”— “one of the most vicious bandits in recent city history.” San Antonio Police Burglary Detective John Smith speculated that the “Thief” was a “sex maniac.” In the same article, Police Chief George Bichsel said, “We have some leads — we are acting on them — but they are not as solid as we need them to be.” Police Crime Bureau Inspector Jack Hutton noted that the man’s “method of operation is similar in all of the cases, but as of yet we have no definite plan for his capture.” [“Police Hunt ‘Thief of Baghdad,’” San Antonio Express, page 1, January 25, 1969]
Eventually, police officials also speculated that the “Thief of Baghdad” may be more than one person. Police Detective Dale Morris said there are “at least two other men” using the same method of operation as the notorious “thief.” Morris said the “thieves” probably do not work in connection with each other, they just use what looks like the same method. [“Several Thieves Suspected, Police Launch Manhunt” San Antonio Express, page 12, April 4, 1969]
On the night of April 2, less then two weeks after the Perry home invasion, two armed men broke into the home of a 46-year-old single mother and raped her 15-year-old daughter. The crime occurred in the 500th block of Donaldson Avenue on the city’s near Northwest Side.
The two robbers, described as young African American men wearing stocking masks, crawled through an open bedroom window and accosted the woman’s 20-year-old son. The youth was held at gunpoint, while the second man brought the mother and daughter to the room where all three were tied up. The 15-year-old daughter was taken to another room where she was sexually assaulted by each of the bandits. The men took $312 from the mother, then fled in her car. Police believed it was the work of the “Thief of Bagdad” and an accomplice.
On April 10, around 9:30 a.m., two men broke into the home of a woman as she was dressing to leave. The home was located in the same Northwest Side neighborhood as the attack on Donaldson Avenue, less than a mile away.
One man had a pistol and the other had a hammer. Both of the men wore stocking masks over their heads. The men ransacked the house after demanding money, then struck the woman with the pistol and took her to the bedroom and raped her.
The intruders took $31 and some jewelry before they left the home, then warned their victim to go to her room and wait 15 minutes until they cleared out. She told police she waited a short time then rushed to a neighbor’s to call for help. The woman’s description of the men matched the men in previous attacks. Other attacks by the “Baghdad Thief” occurred after dark. The daylight attack was a departure from the “Thief’s” normal procedures.
By now, many San Antonio residents feared the “Thief of Baghdad.” Sales of guns sky rocketed around the Alamo City as residents armed themselves. Husbands were reluctant to let their wives or daughters out at night. Neighborhood watch groups also began keeping more watchful eyes on neighborhoods.
“His terrorist tactics have resulted in many homeowners buying double locks for their doors and arming themselves. Teen-aged girl members of the victim families have been raped and parents have been reluctant to leave their children alone at night any more.” [“Gun Sales Booming,” San Antonio Light, January 31, 1969, page 1]
On May 2, a Friday night, 16-year-old Juanita Juarez and her boyfriend, 14-year-old Theodore Le Blanc, were sitting and chatting on the Emerson Junior High campus, on the city’s East Side. Out of the dark, they saw a man walk past them and turn a corner. Moments later, the same man came back. This time, he was wearing a stocking mask, white gloves and had a gun.
“He was carrying a long barreled pistol that he pointed at us,” Juanita said. “He put the gun in Ted’s face and said he needed a few dollars for wine. He got Ted’s $3.”
After Theodore Le Blanc gave him $3, the masked bandit then ordered them to walk to a dark yard behind some homes on North Olive Street.
“He said if Ted tried anything he would shoot me,” Juanita said. “He told me to take off my shoelaces and tie Ted up with them.”
Juanita said she was untying her shoelaces when suddenly a flashlight lit up the darkness. A 75-year-old man named Eugene Johnson, who lived in a house nearby, heard loud voices and came outside to see what was going on. Along with the flashlight, Johnson was armed with a gun.
Johnson flashed the light around the yard, finally the beam struck the masked gunman.
“The masked guy yelled, ‘Turn off that light!’” Juanita said. “Then the masked man fired his gun at the old man (Johnson).”
Johnson was shot three times by the masked gunman, once in the arm and twice in the chest. Despite his wounds, Johnson managed to fire his gun, hitting the masked gunman in the chest. Then Johnson moved towards the masked man and pistol-whipped him,” Juanita said.
“I was so scared my mind went blank,” Juanita said. “It was all so horrible, those flashes and that old man being hit.”
The masked gunman fled on foot. Juanita and Theodore also ran, fearing the gunman. Several neighbors had heard the gunshots and called police. Within minutes police cars converged on North Olive Street. Police found Johnson barely alive at the scene. He died a few hours later in a hospital.
Police searched the area, but the masked gunman was gone.
A short time later, however, police received a call from a young man nearby saying he had been shot and robbed by “Mexican boys.” Police and EMS picked him up and transported him to Bexar County Hospital. After the young man got out of surgery, Police Detective Roy Aguilar asked him how he had received his wounds. The young man replied he had been shot by some prostitutes. His name was Samuel Webb.
Samuel Webb was a 24-year-old married man who lived on San Antonio’s East Side. There is little personal information about Webb in the newspaper accounts or on the internet.
One poster on the City Data forum, said he knew Webb back in the 1960s: “He worked for me during the daylight hours. We called him Preacherman as he would recite a lot of Bible all day long and was one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet.”
On May 5, 1969, Samuel Webb was charged with the shooting death of Eugene Johnson. According to police, Samuel Webb was a person of interest in the “Thief of Baghdad” robberies and rapes for “some time.” Webb was also charged with the robbery of Juanita Juarez and Theodore LeBlanc. They had both picked Webb out of a police line-up.
Police were also able to identify the bullet taken out of Samuel Webb’s chest as matching the bullet’s fired from Johnson’s gun. Webb was also charged with the robbery of the Perry Family that had occurred on January 22, 1969. Police said a search of Webb’s car after his arrest in the Johnson shooting turned up a pawn ticket for a ring identical to the one taken in the Perry robbery.
On May 9, 1969, Samuel Webb’s two brothers, Eddie Lee Webb, 22, and James C. Webb, 26, would be charged in connection with “Thief of Baghdad” cases. Police said they recovered a pistol and a watch taken in one of the first robberies attributed to the “Thief of Baghdad” at the home of one of the suspects.
The media scrutiny over the “Thief of Baghdad” crimes had been so intense, Samuel Webb’s attorney successfully argued he could not receive a fair trial in San Antonio. The trial was moved to Victoria, Texas. Samuel Webb plead not guilty.
According to police, after the Johnson shooting, Samuel Webb first told police he had nothing to do with it. Webb said he had been shot and robbed by a group of “Mexican boys” while he was a car wash. Later that same night, Samuel Webb told another detective he had been shot and robbed by Mexican prostitutes.
Testifying for the prosecution at Samuel Webb’s trial were Juanita Juarez and Theodore Le Blanc. Mary Johnson, the window of Eugene Johnson, also testified at the trial. She said they had been having problems with prowlers in the neighborhood and she had warned him about going out at night.
“My husband was a brave man— to brave,” Mary Johnson said.
Presented as evidence against Samuel Webb were also the stolen items and the bullet from Eugene Johnson’s gun found in Webb’s chest.
On April 2, a jury found Samuel Webb guilty and he was sentenced to 99 years in the shooting death of Eugene Johnson. In a separate trial months later, Samuel Webb a jury found him guilty of robbery in Juanita Juarez and Theodore LeBlanc. He received a 28-year sentence for that crime.
Eugene Johnson was hailed as a hero throughout San Antonio for helping Juanita Juarez and Theodore Le Blanc. The retired teacher had acted heroically by stopping Samuel Webb on that night back in May 2, 1969. The local media and the police department gave his window, Mary Johnson, the reward money ($7,253.75) that had been raised to stop the “Thief of Baghdad.”