WEST RIDGE — It started about a year ago, when four tires on John Lillig's minivan went flat.
Then his Pontiac GT. Three flat tires.
The same pattern of puncture holes — of a size smaller than a screwdriver yet larger than a common nail — were the cause of the flats.
"I don't have any reason to believe anyone is targeting me," said Lillig, 44, an attorney who thinks someone in the neighborhood purposefully slashed his tires.
He's not the only one. Others who live near him in West Ridge say they, too, have been victimized.
Lillig lives in the 5900 block of North Rockwell Street, sandwiched between Mather High School and Rosehill Cemetery.
"It's sort of, like, creepy — because it’s premeditated," said Lillig's mechanic Gary, who manages Howard Auto Service.
Gary, who didn't want to share his last name, said the puncture holes were on the sidewall of the tires in each instance, where a simple patch won't do. The whole tire must be replaced.
He said he replaced Lillig's tires and noted in the 19 years he'd been in the car repair business he'd never seen anything like it before.
The mysterious flats have perplexed others.
Lillig's neighbor, Martin Ozmina, tells his relatives and friends who come to visit to park on the next street over.
First, it was his in-laws, he said, then two of his friend's cars.
"We got up at 9 the next morning and it had a flat tire," said the 36-year-old closed-caption editor about the time his in-laws got in late for a visit. "Sometime between midnight and nine they got hit.”
He wonders why police haven't done anything about it, but understands it's probably not a priority, he said.
"It is kind of a back-burner thing," he said. "Who has the time to hunt down a serial tire slasher?"
When the weather warms, he said he might stake out the street, specifically a short stretch of Thorndale Avenue between Rockwell Street and Talman Avenue, where most of the flats were found.
Lillig and Ozmina said they worry not only for their pocket book — it can cost up to $450 for new tires, not including a tow — but also for the safety of their families.
Because the puncture holes are small, a leaking tire can go unnoticed until days after.
Although no one is sure who the tire slasher might be, there are some theories.
Ozmina said the person's motive could stem from a dispute about where cars are parked or from personal payback among quarreling neighbors.
"There's a lot of gossip in the neighborhood that sounds a little crazy," Lillig said.
One thing he's sure of is that "someone in the neighborhood is doing this and it's costing people thousands of dollars in repairs," he said.
Ruben Martinez, the longtime butcher at nearby Muller Meats, says it's just a pack of "kids with nothing to do."
He's lived in the neighborhood, just a few doors down from Lillig's, for 44 years.
He said he hadn't owned a car for the past 17 years, and some of his neighbors never have had a flat tire.
"Some people said it was an old man down the street," he said of one unconvincing theory. More likely, he said, the drunks who parked in the neighborhood and drink at nearby taverns were to blame.
Since late December, a two-door Saab in front of Lillig's one-story bungalow hasn't moved.
All four of its tires are flat.