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Police investigate attacks on women in Society Hill

Philadelphia police are investigating a string of brazen attacks in Society Hill in which women have been choked and robbed, police said Sunday night.

Since late June, seven women have been attacked on small streets, alleys, and walkways, mostly in the area of Fourth and Spruce Streets, according to a police bulletin.

The robberies had a similar pattern: The assailants approached from behind; grabbed the women around their necks and choked them, sometimes into unconsciousness; then robbed them of their handbags, wallets, or laptop computers, police said.

None of attacks were fatal, and none of the women were sexually assaulted, police said. Some were treated for minor injuries and released.

But in the latest case, a 61-year-old woman was attacked in her kitchen near Ninth and Spruce Streets on Saturday night after watering flowers in her garden. She remained hospitalized Sunday night.

She will undergo surgery Monday to repair fractured cartilage in her neck, said her husband, who asked that he and his wife not be identified.

"She can only talk in a whisper right now," he said. "Doctors are not sure how much of her voice will return."

Witnesses have been unable to provide many details.

In the first six attacks, the assailant was described as a black man. In Saturday's, the woman said her attacker was white.

The attacks have occurred in the morning, afternoon, and night, police said.

Around 7:30 p.m. Saturday, the 61-year-old woman, a book publisher who moved with her husband from Doylestown eight months ago, had just finished watering flowers in her garden, her husband said.

She had left the back door open, and when she went inside to wash out her bucket, she felt an arm around her neck, her husband said.

She lost consciousness and woke up about five minutes later, said her husband, who was upstairs at the time.

The attacker left without taking anything. The husband believes he might have inadvertently scared the man away when he turned on a vacuum cleaner.

Police have increased patrols in the area and deployed plainclothes officers there. They asked residents to call 911 if they see a suspicious person. Also, women should walk on busy streets, avoiding side streets and alleys, police said.