Two Robstown women were brutally battered during two daylight store robberies in Robstown last week and police were continuing their search for the suspect Tuesday.
The unarmed robberies left one shopkeeper blind and hospitalized the other shopkeeper with a broken cheek and nose, police said.
Authorities said the first robbery occurred at about 2:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Town & Country Community Store at 600 N. Fifth St.
The robber, described as a Hispanic man in his 20s, went to the walk-up window and bought two soft drinks, police said. After paying for the soft drinks, he asked store co-owner Sandra Gonzalez, 45, for some chocolate candy from inside the store.
When Gonzalez went to get the candy, the suspect reached inside to open a door to the business, police said.
After entering, the suspect used his fists and struck Gonzalez twice on the left side of the face, knocking her out. The suspect then took about $30 in cash from the cash register and ran out of the store, said Robstown police Sgt. Albert Stout Jr.
Gonzalez, who was partially blind before the attack with a prosthetic eye, was left completely blind after the assault when she suffered a torn cornea in her other eye, said Robstown Det. Arturo Gonzalez.
"She had limited vision before," he said. "The family says she is totally blind now."
In addition, Gonzalez suffered a black eye, redness to her left cheek, and had some loose teeth, police said.
She was treated at the scene by Robstown Emergency Medical Services and released.
The same apparent suspect was seen again the afternoon of Sept. 27, riding a bicycle along Avenue B before going into the Robstown Laundry and Cleaners at 425 E. Ave. B and asking about prices, Stout said.
Arturo Gonzalez said police believe the two robberies were committed by the same person, despite some discrepancies in the assailant's description, since the two robberies occurred at about the same time of day, only a few blocks apart.
"We had units patrolling the area all day (Sept. 27)," he said.
"We're thinking it's the same person," Stout added.
After leaving the cleaners, the suspect went around the corner and into the Trash & Treasure antique store at 201 N. Fifth St. at about 2:30 p.m., police said.
There, the suspect had an extensive conversation with shop owner Joyce Milstead, 72, before attacking her with a coffee cup and metal receipt book, Arturo Gonzalez said.
"He was walking out of there with the expectation that she was dead," said Milstead's daughter, Rhonda Milstead Choron. "Otherwise, he told her way too much personal information."
The suspect even told Joyce Milstead he needed money to buy milk for his 6-month-old baby, and that he couldn't get a job because he had been in prison for five years, Rhonda Milstead Choron said.
"The guy stood there and talked with Milstead for about 15 minutes," Arturo Gonzalez said. He said the information about the suspect reportedly being in prison for five years could be a helpful lead, or maybe not.
"It's just something he might be using to get us looking for somebody else," Arturo Gonzalez said, adding the motive for the vicious beatings is a mystery. "He might just be making it up."
Police said the suspect told Milstead he had some porcelain dolls to sale and he would return to the store. But instead of leaving, the robber hid behind some furniture before suddenly attacking Milstead, police said.
Milstead suffered a broken nose, broken cheekbone, several lacerations to her face and bruising to the back of her head as the robber hit her more than a dozen times, Arturo Gonzalez said.
Milstead played dead and later called 911, police said.
She was taken by ambulance to Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital where she was admitted for treatment. She underwent surgery Friday and was released Sunday.
"We feel 100 percent confident he was trying to kill her," Rhonda Milstead Choron said, adding her mother was scared to come home from the hospital. "We feel 100 percent confident that he thought she was dead when he left. She even held her breath so he couldn't see her breathe."
Police said about $50 was stolen from a moneybox at the Trash and Treasures store.
"I'm going to do anything I can to get this guy stopped, because he's going to kill somebody otherwise. He's only going to get worse and more dangerous," Rhonda Milstead Choron said.
She said her mother's spirits are good, despite the horrifying experience.
"For what's she's going through, she's doing remarkably well," Rhonda Milstead Choron said. "She does have some permanent damage to her eye. She's going to have scars. She has numerous, numerous, numerous stitches. The only part of her face that she doesn't have stitches is her chin."
Rhonda Milstead Choron said her mother would get her stitches out Friday when she sees her plastic surgeon.
She said her mother planned to close the Trash & Treasure store sometime next year, but that has changed since the attack and robbery.
The store was also reportedly broken into about a year ago.
Rhonda Milstead Choron said the store would not re-open, except to meet with layaway customers and for a liquidation sale, after Joyce Milstead recuperates.
"I certainly don't want her down there by herself," Rhonda Milstead Choron said. "I just hope somebody will turn this guy in."
The suspect was described by police as an Hispanic man in his 20s, 5-feet-7 inches tall, with a slender build, clean-cut haircut, medium complexion, and with tattoos on left side of his neck and both arms, with piercings on his right eyebrow and left ear.
He was last seen wearing a yellow T-shirt with dark, colored stripes and blue jean shorts.
The robber acted alone, without a disguise, police said.
Arturo Gonzalez said the public has been helpful in the investigation, but that police needed more help to catch the assailant. He said it was unknown if the suspect is from the Robstown area.
Police asked anyone with information to call the Robstown Police Department at 387-3531.