The ski-masked intruders shining flashlights in 55-year-old Bill Robinson’s face seemed like a dream.
But as the Spokane man and his girlfriend, Sharon Becker, were tied up and tortured in the bed where they had been sound asleep, it became all too real.
For 45 minutes, the violent intruders ransacked the Hillyard home, looking for cash and valuables and doing “a lot at the end to try to frighten us out of ever calling the police,” Robinson recalls of the December attack.
He called anyway. “You see these robberies on television happen with great precision,” Robinson said. “This wasn’t like that. It was some otherworldly dance. Many of the things they did were completely irrational.”
Unlike the Robinson robbery, most home invasion robberies across the Inland Northwest involve victims connected to the region’s drug underworld, in part because attackers know it’s unlikely police will be called, particularly when the items stolen include illegal drug stashes or the proceeds of drug trafficking, Spokane police Sgt. Joe Peterson said.
It’s those violent robberies that police want to solve before innocent victims like Robinson are targeted.
Robinson and Becker, like victims in a few other recent robberies, had no connection to drug or other crime rings, but they were targeted in much the same way rival underworld groups have been preying on one another.
That spillover is among the reasons investigators are trying to persuade victims, regardless of their association with the drug world, to report crimes.
The attackers “aren’t always after dope dealers. If they know someone has money, they are going to go after them, too,” Peterson said. Police estimate that in the city, about one homicide a year is tied to home invasion robbery.
Spokane police respond to about 20 home-invasion robberies a year, and those are just the ones that are reported. They are currently investigating about a half-dozen cases that they believe are related, including one in the county, outside the city.
In four of those six cases, the residents were beaten. The robbers used guns or other weapons, including baseball bats, clubs and knives. And the robbers used terms similar to those used by police to order victims around, authorities said.
Three men are in custody so far. Dennis Sprayberry, 21; David Ellis, 19; and Gary Hottell, 18, were each arrested on four counts of first-degree robbery and kidnapping as well as one burglary count, police said. Sprayberry agreed to a jailhouse interview Tuesday, but he was prevented from talking to the news media by a Spokane public defender.
Detectives are looking for additional suspects, one of whom had provided the alleged robbers with a detailed floor plan of at least one home, which included a hidden safe.
Spokane detectives also want to talk to more victims. “People think the police won’t do anything because the victims use or sell drugs, but these robberies are a much more serious crime,” said Spokane police Detective Mark Burbridge.
The robberies have occurred in different areas of the city, Burbridge said. The suspects take anything of value, such as computers, cell phones, drugs, cash and guns.
A Coeur d’Alene case from late January closely resembled Spokane’s robberies, but Coeur d’Alene police Sgt. Christie Wood says it’s unrelated.
In that case, several robbers announced they were with a police drug unit, used weapons including a gun, and stole a small safe and other items. Five people have been arrested in that robbery.