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Realtor shares story, safety tips

"I don't want anyone else to go through that," Julie Roberts tells colleagues. Afterward, many agents line up to buy pepper spray.

By LEONORA LAPETER
Published March 11, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - About 200 real estate agents gathered Friday to hear colleague Julie Roberts tell her story of being beaten and robbed while showing a house a week ago.

Roberts, 48, suffered a broken elbow after a well-dressed prospective buyer pistol-whipped her and bound her with plastic cable ties at a vacant house she was showing him in St. Petersburg.

She told members of the Pinellas Realtor Organization if she had to do it over again, she would not have gone to the vacant house alone with the man. She did take him to her office, where everyone saw him, before heading out to the listing. But she did not get a copy of his driver's license or record his license plate, Roberts said.

"If I share my experience, then maybe they don't have to go through it," Roberts said. "I don't want anyone else to go through that."

Her assailant is described as being between 25 and 35 years old with short dark hair. An ATM captured an image of him in a ball cap and sunglasses as he used Robert's credit cards to steal $500.

The Pinellas Realtor Organization had gathered about a dozen complaints about a man with a similar description in the month before Roberts' March 3 attack. But police could do nothing about him because he did not commit a crime.

Realtors said they learned a great deal from the safety course, which featured A.J. Gwyn, the chief instructor for the Southern Crime Prevention Task Force in Georgia. Many lined up to buy pepper spray afterward.

"It was incredible," said real estate agent Roxanne Krauss, who might have showed a house to the man in October. "I learned a tremendous amount over what was just common sense."

Agents learned to have a distress code they can use to signal their office. They also were given forms prospective buyers could fill out with information that would identify them.

The Pinellas Realtor Organization is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the man who attacked Roberts. Anyone with information is asked to call (727) 893-7780.