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Hattie Dorman was tapping away at her computer on the afternoon of Thursday, Aug. 28, when something out the window caught her eye. In the driveway of her Shepherd Park house was an unfamiliar maroon, four-door car—and, standing next to it, an unfamiliar man.

“He was black, maybe between 28 and 30, was stocky and had ‘normal’ hair,” says the retired federal-government executive. But there was something else that drew her attention: “He had my garden hose in his hand, and he was just busy washing his car.”

Dorman opened her front door to get a better look. The man had picked up some rags and a bucket from her yard, she says, and was swabbing down his largish, “not-too-late-model” ride. From the bubbles oozing down the drive, it was evident he was using soap.

“I beg your pardon?” Dorman asked. The man jumped and turned, says Dorman, and replied, “Oh, ma’am! I’m sorry—I thought this was my friend’s house.”

Dorman asked the man, who introduced himself as “Mitchell,” where his friend lived. Mitchell said it was near St. John’s. When Dorman pointed out that St. John’s was miles away, she says, Mitchell became agitated and started yelling, “I’m not a criminal! I’m not a criminal!”

Mitchell offered to pay for the water, but Dorman nixed the deal, saying, “That’s not the point.” She asked where he found the soap, and Mitchell replied that he always carries some.

Then Mitchell appeared to come clean. He said his car had started to overheat, forcing him to pull into the nearest driveway and hose it down with water. One thing led to another, and he wound up washing the vehicle.

Dorman says she didn’t buy this story, either. “I would assume you’d have the hood up and be putting water in the radiator,” she told her guest.

At this point, Mitchell again became flustered. He ran to his car, rooted around inside, and returned with a photograph of a horse.

“I own this horse. I keep it at Rock Creek Stables,” he told Dorman. (An employee at the Rock Creek Park Horse Center says the only client matching Mitchell’s description moved—along with his “big, fat, palomino pony”—to rural Maryland years ago.)

But Mitchell’s property ownership didn’t impress Dorman. “I said to him, ‘Really, I’m not interested.’ I just suggested he rinse the soap off the car and get out of my driveway.” Mitchell did just that.

Though Dorman hasn’t seen Mitchell since that Thursday, she suspects he might be out in the city still, washing his car on other people’s property. He travels with his own soap, she says, “so he probably does this all the time.”

“This is a major, major thing we have been working on for months, and I regret that we missed yet another opportunity recently to nab the ‘Driveway Car Wash Bandit,’” says Capt. Andrew Solberg, of the police department’s 4th District, via e-mail.

“Descriptions of the suspect vary,” writes Solberg, “but the general lookout is for a man, driving a clean car, armed with a sponge or rags, and significantly, he is often described to us as having wet shoes. ‘Theft of Water’ and ‘Wetting Another’s Driveway or Parking Area’ are both five-year felonies in D.C., and judgments from the courts are astonishingly swift and severe in these cases.”

Solberg admits later in his e-mail to being flippant.

An hour after Mitchell left, Dorman called the 311 nonemergency police number to make a report. The officers who visited her house told her that burglars sometimes pull into people’s driveways, acting as if they belong there when they’re really casing the house.

“I hope I’m a good judge of character. He looked honest,” says Dorman. “But he was definitely lying about the car running hot. He was washing his car.” CP