Security camera thief sought
 
Police have face shot of man also suspected in burglaries, arson



Pioneer Press

West St. Paul police have a strange case on their hands. They're hoping the public can help.

For some reason, a man has been burglarizing apartment complexes and stealing surveillance video cameras. Even stranger, he made no attempt to conceal his identity in four of the six cases.

"We've got real good video of the suspect in the process of stealing the video cameras. We've got a great facial shot. We need a name," said investigator Matt Swenke. "Maybe somebody out there will be able to identify the person."

But will finding this man also help police solve a case of arson? Maybe, police say.

The first surveillance-camera theft linked to the unidentified man took place on Oct. 23 in Covington Court Apartments, a five-building complex on the southeast corner of Marie and Oakdale avenues in the St. Paul suburb of 20,000 residents.

Within roughly the same 24-hour time period, someone lit a fire in a hallway near an exit, disabled smoke detectors and stole fire extinguishers. No one was hurt in the arson fire, which remains unsolved.

The first camera theft and arson fire "could be possibly related," Swenke said, although investigators also received descriptions of four other possible suspects.

But as the incidents of surveillance-camera theft multiplied, the most recent of which came less than a month ago, so did the mystery. None of the subsequent West St. Paul thefts involves other crimes, Swenke said.

However, the same man is a suspect in burglaries that took place in Oakdale and Edina, Swenke said, in which he broke into rental offices and stole computers, but not surveillance cameras.

It took investigators time to make the connection among all the incidents that took place over a span of about six months.

After the Oct. 23 incident at Covington Court Apartments, surveillance-camera thefts also took place on Oct. 27 and March 18, Swenke said. Two more such incidents took place at Oakdale Terrace Apartments, 1926 W. Oakdale Ave., on Feb. 1 and March 18.

The sixth and final theft linked to the mystery man took place on March 28 at Chateau Carmel, a complex at 1555 Bellows St., Swenke said.

Apart from the question of who is committing these crimes is another one: why? The 15 cameras aren't worth much money, Swenke said. One police theory: drug-fueled paranoia.

Whatever the reason, police are eager to find the man described as an adult white male of average height (5 feet 9 inches to 6 feet), weighing 170 to 190 pounds. He has dark-colored, receding hair and a mustache, and his estimated age is 35 to 45.

"It's a huge concern for our residents," Swenke said. "It leaves a great deal of questions for us about how this is taking place."


 
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