JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A Jacksonville man charged with trying to kidnap a 10-year-old girl and dragging her toward his Southside apartment was eerily nicknamed the "candy man" by neighborhood children, according to his arrest warrant.
Eric Helms, 56, was arrested and booked into the Duval County jail, where he's being held without bond.
The I-TEAM learned Helms had been arrested before on a sexual battery charge, but prosecutors in Putnam County dropped the case that was brought against Helms decades ago.
Helms lives alone in a one bedroom apartment at Magnolia Point on Beach Boulevard. On Nov. 14, police said, he offered the 10-year-old girl a treat, and when she refused, he tried to drag her into his home.
Neighbor Earlene Burgess couldn't believe it.
"Oh my God. Oh, Jesus," Burgess said.
Helms was picked out of a lineup by the girl, who police said he tried to drag into his apartment.
The main path to get to the neighborhood playground goes right past Helms' front door, where police said he grabbed the arm of the girl, who in turn screamed, and ran home to tell her parents.
According to the police report, before the attempted kidnapping, Helms tried to give the girl a "treat," which she refused.
Helms lives across from Santo Perdomo, who said he just warned his 4-year-old great-granddaughter about him.
"My great-granddaughter lives over here. She's 4 years old, and I say, 'I don't want you going over there to talk to that guy over there,'" Perdomo said.
According to court records that date back more than 30 years, Helms was arrested on a battery charge in 1981 in Duval County, but a judge ruled Helms was mentally unable to stand trial, and was placed on probation.
In 1993, Helms was arrested again, that time on a sexual battery charge, in Putnam County, but the case was dropped by the prosecution for unknown reasons, according to records.
Helms' reputation as the "candy man," is a frightening reminder for parents to keep a close eye on their children.
"Parents, be vigilant with your kids," Burgess said. "When a stranger approaches, you whistle. We used to have whistles back in the days. Whistle, yell, scratch, run yell -- do something."
Thankfully, the 10-year-old girl did the right thing, screaming and running away immediately.
News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said, especially in an apartment complex, parents have to keep an eye on their children, or make sure their child is not playing alone.
Smith added that children should never accept anything, such as candy, from anyone.
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