BELLEVILLE, Ill. James Dowdy has gone to prison three times, and may go there again, for the same crime: burglarizing homes and stealing women's socks.
Dowdy had been free on bond in one alleged sock caper when police say he was caught with socks that had been taken from someone's laundry room Monday morning in Belleville, a St. Louis suburb. The 36-year-old remained jailed Wednesday on a felony burglary count filed the previous day.
Dowdy's mother, Linda, said he needs to be institutionalized to get psychiatric treatment for the fixation she says has tormented him most of his life. She thinks the fetish took hold when he clung to some of her socks as keepsakes when he was forced to live for a year with his dad as a child.
"He cries to me all the time, 'Mom, I hate myself. I'd rather be dead than live like this,"' the 59-year-old mother, her voice cracking, told The Associated Press. "He doesn't hurt anybody, and he never takes anything of value. He takes nothing but socks."
Police have said there's no evidence Dowdy has ever threatened anyone in his apparently single-minded quest for socks, almost always the female variety. But on Wednesday, police Capt. Don Sax said that while Dowdy is "obviously a guy with a problem," authorities have run out of patience.
"I'm sorry, I don't personally have any sympathy for him anymore," Sax said. "He's been doing this long enough, he's been out of jail plenty long enough, that he could have easily gone out and sought help for whatever problem he has."
In 1994, Dowdy was sentenced to three years in prison for trying to burglarize a home, getting caught by police with a bag of socks.
"I know what I did was wrong," he told the judge during sentencing for that crime. "And the thing with the socks, I would like to get help with it so I can get over it, get it out of my life and get on with my life."
In 1997, however, Dowdy got a six-year sentence for breaking into another woman's home and stealing socks. In 2004, he was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to attempted residential burglary, a felony reportedly tied to his strolling into a female neighbor's home for her socks.
Last year, witnesses in Dowdy's neighborhood reported seeing a suspicious person slinking about, at times peeking through windows. Often, police said, socks were left behind, though it's unclear whether the culprit dropped them clumsily or as a calling card.
Police responding to one of the reports saw Dowdy who fit the description of the man reported by neighbors trying to crawl into his house through a basement window, socks in one hand and a flashlight in the other.
Charges of attempted burglary and disorderly conduct are pending. Dowdy's court-appointed public defender in that case declined to discuss the man's legal troubles Wednesday.
Early Monday, a man told police he saw a stranger crawling out of his basement window after his 15-year-old daughter heard someone downstairs. Sax said police dogs led officers to the house where Dowdy lives with his mother, and socks taken from the caller's basement laundry room were found in his bedroom.
Sax credited the victim a homeowner who owns guns with staying levelheaded and not confronting the burglar. Police and Dowdy's mother fear that luck may not hold up.
"I told the police officer the other night they're going to call me in the middle of the night to identify my son's body because somebody's going to shoot him," Linda Dowdy said. "And in all honesty, I can't blame that person because I would be trying to protect my home, too."
Still, she added, "I'd like for somebody to look at him as a human being and not a monster. He's not a bad kid, he's really not. He just has a problem."