Entries in Robberies (6)


String of 50 Midwest Church Robberies Believed to Be Connected

SE Michigan Crimestoppers(LINDEN, Mich.) -- Authorities believe that at least 50 church robberies that have taken place across a string of Midwestern states in recent months – with the thieves taking everything from money for the poor to gift cards for seminary students – are connected.

According to a crime bulletin released by law enforcement agencies in southeast Michigan and northern Ohio, authorities are searching for two young white males caught on tape by security cameras. One man, wearing a navy blue sweatshirt, is holding a crowbar in the photos.

That was one of the weapons used to break into the Family Tabernacle Church of God in Unadilla Township, Mich., this fall. In fact, the church has been burglarized twice in the last year, but the most recent incident came on Oct. 30 when the robbers smashed a window and ransacked the church's office looking for money. Fortunately for the church, they had installed an alarm system after a break-in last spring saw over $7,000 worth of musical instruments stolen.

"After that we got an alarm system," Pastor Jeff Howard said in a phone interview Friday. "We're in a rural area, but on a state road with a lot of neighbors in front of us and on one side of us, so we felt pretty safe, but evidently we're not."

Howard's church is just one of many – stretching from Flint in eastern Michigan down into northern Ohio and even west into northern Indiana – that have been victimized, a string of robberies that Howard finds deeply disturbing.

"It shows that we as a society are moving away from God instead of moving towards Him. That concerns me," he said. "The thing that's puzzling is if we're responding to these tough times this way, it means people must be angry with God. That's disturbing. All our blood sweat and tears are in this building. It really hurt to see it torn apart like that, but at the same time it showed us how important what we are doing is for this community that we live in. I told them at church that the folks did this came to the right place for help, but they came in the wrong way and at the wrong time. We would still reach out to them today to do everything we could to help them. I just pray that they get the help they need."

Authorities have now posted security photos of two suspects, a development that sprang from an Oct. 7 break-in at Hope Lutheran Church in Linden, Mich.

"They came in the early morning and used a crowbar to break into the church through our doors. They pried open some filing cabinets and got into our safe. They were apparently only looking for money because they left all our computers and other equipment," Pastor Jim Roth said in a phone interview. "We don't store money here, but they took gift cards from our safe that were for seminary students. One of the gift cards was for Wal-Mart and they were able to get pictures of the guys at Wal-Mart in southern Michigan and it matches the ones we took with our security cameras."

"The police thought that because we got pictures of them here and there that that would be very helpful in catching them," Roth noted.

In a press release Friday from the Lenawee County Sheriff Department and the Michigan State Police, authorities said they are looking for two "people of interest" and they believe the break-ins – which started around Aug. 13 with a robbery in Woodstock Township – "are all related."

"We've got photos of the guys now, so that's good," Detective Jeff Smith of the Monroe County Sheriff's Office told ABC News. "We may get some leads coming in soon."

"The last I heard, there are well over 50 churches that have been broken into," he said. "Here in Monroe County I've got eight reports on my desk. They're mostly looking for money. They're going for small, out-of-the-way churches, not hitting the big churches. I think that is because these churches are out in the country, they may not have surveillance systems, they're usually on dark, unlit roads, and some of these congregations lock up after Sunday and don't come back until later in the week. The robbers know it's going to be a few days before the break-in will even be discovered."

According to Howard, the thieves are not getting away with considerable amounts of money, despite the huge number of churches they have hit.

"These guys are looking at prison time from these break-ins and with us, they didn't get anything. With some break-ins they're getting only $200," he said. "So even though they've broken into over 40 churches, they're not getting that much at all. It's just hard to justify it."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Thieves Stealing Car Registrations to Find and Rob Empty Homes

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) -- Thieves in Seattle are finding a new way to target victims: stealing vehicle registrations from cars parked at movie theaters, checking the address of the registration, and heading straight for the vehicle owners' homes for a two-hour stealing spree.

The Kings County, Wash., Sheriff's Department has responded to four reports of car burglaries in the past two weeks that have turned out to be much more than smash-and-grab thefts.

As moviegoers arrive in the parking lot and leave their cars to go inside, vigilant thieves swoop in, smash the passengers' side window and reach into the glove box to steal one vital piece of information: their car registration.

"I would imagine that they probably watch the people pull up to the movies, figure they're going to be gone for two hours.  It's likely that they'll knock on the (car owner's) door to see if someone's home, and if not, go around back to break in," said Sgt. Cyndi West.

Gary Van Wieringen, a Washington resident whose car and home were broken into, said he never thought to take his registration with him when leaving his car.

"Redmond Police showed up within four minutes.  Their first question to us was, have you checked for your registration?" Van Wieringen, whose house was robbed while he watched a movie, told ABC News affiliate KOMO.  "Like the sign says, don't leave your valuables in the car.  But it doesn't say don't leave your registration in the car."

When the individuals emerge from the movie or dinner to see their car window broken, they call police, but often don't realize that the thieves are already nearly finished robbing their homes.

"In all of our cases, nothing else was taken, and then when the individual gets home from the movie or wherever, the house had been broken into," West said.

Police suspect that the four Seattle crimes are related, but are warning residents to be aware of copycat burglars.

"At the very least lock your glove box," West said.  "It's just a deterrent.  It's not going to keep someone with the right tools out.  Or keep you registration on you.  If there's only one person operating the vehicle, keep it on so you have it available."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Violent Crimes Down, FBI Reports

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The FBI said Monday there were fewer violent crimes committed in the first half of this year despite high unemployment and a lackluster economy.

Police departments across the country reported an overall drop of nearly 6.5 percent in violent crime.  That includes murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

Better policing and an aging population may help explain it, but Jeffrey Butts at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York says the biggest reason may be changing mores. “It's just not as accepted anymore to engage in violence to commit crime, to harm someone, to steal.”

The decline was biggest in small to midsized cities in the Midwest.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Violent Crimes, Property Crimes in US Keep Falling

FBI(WASHINGTON) -- Violent crime in the U.S. fell for the fourth consecutive year in 2010, according to FBI figures released Monday, down 6 percent from 2009.

In its annual report, "Crime in the United States," the FBI reported that robbery took the largest dip last year of all violent crime categories, falling by 10 percent, while forcible rape was down by 5 percent; murder and nonnegligent manslaughter decreased by 4.2 percent; and aggravated assault was off by 4.1 percent compared to 2009.

In addition, the incidence of property crimes, which includes motor vehicle thefts, burglaries and larceny-thefts, was down for the eighth straight year.

Overall, of the 13.1 million arrests made in the U.S. during 2010, 552,077 busts were for violent crimes, and property crimes accounted for 1,643,962 arrests.

The FBI report did not elaborate on why violent crimes and property crimes keep declining.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Teenage 'Thelma and Louise' Caught in Philadelphia

Upper Darby Police Department(PHILADELPHIA) -- Dubbed Philadelphia's "Thelma and Louise" by local authorities, two 19-year-olds have been arrested after a crime spree that even law enforcement admits was impressive.

"They took everything that wasn't nailed down -- perfume, money, jewelry, deodorant, toilet paper," Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood told ABC News. "They took everything they could carry and everything was on foot. They had no vehicle."

In less than three months, Britney Singleton and Harley Gifford allegedly robbed 29 homes and stole hundreds of items. In addition to stealing more than $21,000 in cash, the teens swiped religious statues, signed baseballs, children's toys and a disposable camera.

Police say the teens even took a 55-inch television, which they carried back to their Upper Darby apartment without getting caught.

And when the teens allegedly robbed a home, they made no effort to be subtle.

Curtistine Willis was out of her home for a short time on Tuesday and when she returned she found her house had been ransacked. Drawers were emptied, the floor was littered with her belongings and it seemed as though nothing was off-limits.

"They went through my medicine and took my medicine," Curtistine Willis told ABC Philadelphia affiliate WPVI. "The medicine cabinet was destroyed, so it was really bad."

Chitwood said the duo swiped more items than they knew what to do with.

"There was so much stuff that they couldn't get rid of it fast enough," Chitwood said. They were selling the items on the streets and in pawn shops, but the bulk was so great that their apartment was packed with items when police caught them.

"We had estimated that there were probably a dozen burglaries committed by this duo but we had no idea who they were," Chitwood said.

The big break for police came when a man walked in on Singleton and Gifford burglarizing his apartment and confronted them. One of the girls came up behind him and struck him in the back of the head, knocking him down. They managed to escape, but one of them dropped their ID on the way out, which led police to them.

When police arrived at the live-in couple's basement apartment with arrest warrants on Thursday, the teens didn't want to let them in and refused to open the door. But once they let police in, Chitwood said, they confessed to all of the charges.

"They were just matter-of-fact, very cooperative. They showed us houses we didn't even have burglary reports for," Chitwood said. "They started stealing and it became so easy…they were getting in unlocked windows and doors."

Chitwood said he has noticed an alarming increase in young criminals in Philadelphia, especially among females.

The teens are in jail and have not been able to make bond. They charged with 25 counts of burglary, larceny and conspiracy and are facing years in prison, according to police. Chitwood said the teens do not yet have attorneys.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


String of Church Robberies in Oregon and San Francisco

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(SPRINGFIELD, Ore.) -- A string of church burglaries in suburban Oregon and another in San Francisco has prompted tightened security around houses of worship, including ramped-up patrols and high-tech surveillance equipment.

The extra measures resulted in the arrest of a suspect in six church robberies in Springfield, Ore., a town neighboring Eugene.

Ryan Schroder, 28, of Springfield was held without bail in Lane County Jail on six felony charges of burglary. Schroder was accused of robbing cash boxes at five churches, including one he struck twice, in a three-week crime spree, said Springfield Police Sgt. David Lewis.

His arrest this week came just days after he finished his "post-prison supervision" following 18 months behind bars for two church robberies in 2004, Lewis said.

But Springfield is not the only community plagued by church robberies. In mid-October, police in San Francisco reported that six Bay Area churches had been robbed over a two-month period. One of those churches, St. Francis Episcopal Church, was hit five times.

After the string of robberies, St. Francis Episcopal decided to fight back, spending $20,000 on high-tech surveillance cameras along with motion detection lights. The church also installed a formidable front gate controlled by a coded combination lock.

So far, the added measures have brought an end to the rash of burglaries.

"I think it's the sign of our times, of the desperation that people feel and also people knowing that a church is vulnerable and many of us don't have security systems," St. Francis Episcopal's Rev. Mark Ruyak told ABC News affiliate KGO-TV in San Francisco.

Six churches in total were hit between August and September in the southwest part of San Francisco, and police said they don't think the break-ins are connected to one another.

As in Springfield, the SFPD has urged people who live near these churches to report anything they think that may look suspicious.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio