'It's very creepy': Police issue warning after rash of prowling incidents near McMaster

Hamilton police are again warning residents to lock their windows and doors after a man was caught staring through the window of a Haddon Avenue home late Tuesday night.

Investigators looking into at least 3 alleged prowling incidents over the past month

Police were called to a home in Westdale late Tuesday night after reports of a man staring through a window. (Andrew Collins/CBC)

Nicole Clarke had just stepped out of the shower and started painting her nails when she heard a quiet rustling noise outside her bedroom door.

The 24-year-old assumed it must be her mom and called out to ask what she was doing.

That's when she heard panicked footsteps pound up the stairs and the sound of the back door of her Haddon Avenue home slamming shut.

Shocked, she went upstairs and woke her mom. A search of the home revealed a slashed window screen and a lamp that had been knocked over. Clarke said they called police.

"It's just very creepy," she said. "I literally had a towel wrapped around my head. I had just come out of the shower so I was not dressed, very vulnerable."

Nicole Clarke says someone slashed a screen in her living room window and was watching her in her bedroom back at the beginning of August. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Clarke's experience is one of a handful of break and enters over the past month that have targeted women in Westdale, a neighbourhood near McMaster University. On Wednesday the school issued a special security alert for students, the same day police announced they're investigating a third incident is just over a month involving an alleged prowler. Police acknowledge there are other break and enter incidents in they area they are also looking at.

Clarke's case is in addition to the three prowler incidents cited by police, which include two home invasions from August where women woke up to find strangers in their room.

The third incident happened Tuesday when officers were called to a home on Haddon Avenue North around 11 p.m. after a woman living in the home told police she saw a man standing on her garage roof, staring through a second-storey window.

Even walking to school in the daylight I'm constantly looking around me, uncomfortable.- Bryana Hume, McMaster University student

The man ran away after the woman spotted him, according to police.

Officers searched the area with the help of a K9 unit, but did not find the suspect.

The man is described as "university age" by police. He's white with blonde hair covering his forehead and was wearing a black baseball hat.

Police not linking incidents

Police say while there are commonalities between the cases it's too early to say if they're linked.

"Obviously they have some sort of similarities, that's why we're trying to investigate a potential link, but we can't definitively say that's what's happening," said Const. Lorraine Edwards.

On August 28, a woman called police after realizing an unknown man was in her Bond Street South bedroom. 

She screamed for help and police say the man ran away before she could get a good look at him.

In a separate incident, a sleeping 21-year-old woman was sexually assaulted, police say, after a man crawled through her second-storey window and into her room.

Footsteps in the night

The Westdale area is popular with McMaster University students living off-campus, including Bryanna Hume, who said she came home from a night out with her roommates Saturday to find one of their kitchen windows open and the screen bashed out.

Unsettled, she and one of her housemates searched the home for intruders before locking themselves in her bedroom.

As they drifted off to sleep, Hume said she heard footsteps running across the floor upstairs, then the sound of the front door opening. They reported the break and enter to police, but Hume said she can't shake the uncomfortable feeling the house is being watched.

"Now, even walking to school in the daylight I'm constantly looking around me, uncomfortable and stuff. That's the thing that sucks so much, that we don't feel safe in our own home or neighbourhood," she explained.

The third-year student added she hasn't slept well since that night and planned to sleep over at a friend's home out of town Wednesday night, just to get some rest.

McMaster spokesperson Gord Arbeau said the school is aware of the incidents and is working with police.

"The university places a high priority on the safety and well-being or our students and community," he wrote in an email to CBC News. "We have worked with Hamilton Police to ensure information is available widely and encourage all members of the community to take care, to ensure doors are locked and windows secured."

Double-checking locks before bed

Both Hume and Clarke say they think the incidents have too much in common to be a coincidence. They've taken to double-checking the locks on their doors and windows before going to bed.

"Me and my roommates were never unsafe, we always locked out doors and everything," said Hume. "But there are things you miss, like obviously we hadn't locked out basement window completely and that's something that can end really badly." 

Anyone who spots suspicious activity around McMaster University is asked to call Hamilton police at 905-546-4861, McMaster Security Dispatch at 905-525-9140 ext.24281 or 911 for a crime in progress.


Dan Taekema


Dan Taekema is CBC’s reporter covering Kingston, Ont. and the surrounding area. He’s worked in newsrooms in Chatham, Windsor, Hamilton, Toronto and Ottawa. You can reach him by emailing daniel.taekema@cbc.ca.