By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
STUYVESANT TOWN — Residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village are on high alert following a string of knifepoint muggings inside elevators in the sprawling East Side complex.
Before the incidents, the suspected robber paced outside the entrances to buildings pretending to be talking on a cell phone, and then walked in when someone opened the door, members of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association told DNAinfo on Friday.
The muggings began last month in the Bronx, where three women were targeted and robbed of money and valuables inside their apartment buildings. The suspect struck again in Peter Cooper Village on Nov. 22, stealing cash from a 63-year-old woman after threatening her with an ice pick.
Security guards within the complex have increased their presence and patrols in the area, said a spokesman for the complex's property manager Rose Associates, and are also working in conjunction with the local police precinct.
But these moves have done little to quell fears from female residents of the previously tranquil property.
"I actually am very scared," said Michelle Rexing, 39, who's lived in Peter Cooper Village for the past three years, adding this was the first time she had heard of anyone being mugged in the complex. "I will not get in the elevator with anyone now, unless I know the person."
Police and security guards at the complex Friday explained that they have received tips regarding possible sightings of the suspect, but all have proven unfounded.
A group of police officers gathered on Friday afternoon at the corner of First Avenue and East 14th Street, just blocks from where a 32-year-old woman was mugged Thursday at 525 E. 14th Street, and spoke to passersby about the situation.
Staff have posted wanted fliers in lobbies of all the complex's 110 buildings including surveillance images of the suspect. Police describe the suspect as a male in his 40s, 6 feet tall and weighing 250 pounds, with a close-cut beard and wearing a green jacket.
"I'm susprised that this happened again and the guy struck twice in a 10 or 15 minute period," said tenants association president Al Doyle of the Thursday afternoon muggings. "I think that if the guy returns, he better not press his luck too often in this place because somebody's going to get him."
Some residents, who hadn't yet heard about the Thursday robberies, expressed shock to find that the suspect had been preying on their community.
"This is very unusual, because this is a safe area," said Hilary McAndrew, who is in her 40s and has lived in Stuyvesant Town for six months.
"Usually people will just hold the door for people coming in [the building], so we have to change our behavior."
Other residents also stressed the importance of not allowing unknown people to enter the locked apartment buildings.
"We live in New York City, and we can't be letting people into our buildings," said Margarita Ventura, 30, who has sublet an apartment in Stuyvesant Town for the past year. "We have to be a little more safe about who we're letting in."
A nearly 50-year resident of the complex, Soni Fink, said that the increasing number of young people moving to Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village need to be more aware of their surroundings to avoid being targeted.
"They don't kow how to live in the city," said the longtime tenants association member. "They're not paying attention. You've got to pay attention."
The complex's security staff referred all questions to the NYPD, which did not have any updates on the investigation as of Friday.
Peter Cooper Village resident Rexing said she has been nervous doing laundry or even walking in her own hallway since the incidents occurred.
"It's such a close-knit community," she said. "You never think that these things can happen."