Gold for Drugs: Recent Geist Home Invasions Have a Common Theme
A pair of recent high-profile home invasions have made Indianapolis homeowners extremely security conscious. But residents should also be aware of an increase in what might be called low-profile break-ins. In these examples, burglars are specifically targeting gold and silver jewelry that can be turned into quick cash.
According to retired police officer Tom Trathan of the Geist Neighborhood Patrol, these crimes are a byproduct of two seemingly unrelated economic factors: the high value of precious metals and the low price of addictive drugs. By now, everyone has seen commercials and roadside advertising for operations that offer to buy unwanted gold jewelry. These are legitimate businesses that make it possible for the rightful owners of gold to turn it into cash. But like pawn shops before them, these firms can also be used by thieves to dispose of stolen property.
Until recently, cash-for-gold outlets were not required to maintain records of a seller’s identification or photographs of purchased jewelry. The items in question typically weren’t offered for resale in their original form as is the case for pawned articles. The intention from the start was to scrap the jewelry to recover its gold and other precious metals, and jewelry could be melted down as soon as it was purchased.
The opportunity for fast cash with low risk has created a specialized type of burglary. In these break-ins, other kinds of valuables, such as consumer electronics, which would force the thieves to deal with pawn shops or fences, are deliberately overlooked. The target is precious metal. But again, the high price of gold and silver is only one economic factor behind these break-ins. According to Trathan, a second and more compelling motivation is the low price of illegal drugs.
The street price of drugs like heroine has declined to the point where they are attracting younger and more geographically diverse buyers. Though cheaper, these drugs retain their traditional power to addict. The result is hooked users desperate for cash and willing to force a door or window to find gold.
In keeping with the non-professional nature of these burglars, the break-ins are often low-tech, crimes of opportunity. The perpetrators are looking for relatively soft targets: homes in affluent areas whose occupants are away during the day, homes without alarm systems, homes whose doors are inadequately secured or perhaps left unlocked during the day and homes whose hidden keys can be easily located.
This is a nationwide phenomenon, as a quick scan of the Internet will attest. The Lake County, Ohio, Sheriff’s Office reports that cash-for-gold “burglaries have increased significantly this year,” according to a News-Herald story posted August 11, 2013. Last November, the Baltimore Sun reported that local police had arrested two women for selling a “shoebox full of gold and silver allegedly linked to a string of 30 area burglaries.” The police caught the women by staking out a store that paid cash for gold. The police in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, did even better last January, according to Philly.com, when they arrested the last member of a ring that may be responsible for 40 break-ins. Police describe the ring members as “heroine addicts who broke into houses and stole jewelry for drug money.”
Last July, police in Indiana received an important new tool for combating precious metal break-ins. According to the Indiana Public Media website, a new law that took effect July 1 requires precious metal buyers to obtain seller identification and to hold purchased items in their original form for 10 days.
Tom Trathan suggests that homeowners can also take steps to help the police. He offered the following tips for avoiding break-ins:
- Be wary of people going door-to-door. Report anyone who gives a vague or suspicious reason for ringing your bell. That person may simply be looking for unoccupied houses.
- Watch out for people who appear to be checking out your home or your neighbors’ homes.
- Be sure your doors and windows are locked, even when you’re home. Don’t forget the service door to your garage.
- Watch out for prowling cars.
- Don’t advertise where you hide a house key. (Under the doormat is not a secure location.)
- Be wary of having work done by people you don’t know. One recent break-in was done by a member of a tree trimming crew.
Bob Hittle, president of the Admirals Sound homeowners group, echoes Trathan on the importance of vetting workmen and being vigilant. He suggests that when getting estimates for any work, residents should ask contractors whether they do background checks on their workers and avoid companies that don’t.
Hittle also praised Indianapolis Star carrier Marie Berry for spotting suspects in a recent break-in. Trather urges Geist residents to follow Berry’s example by reporting all suspicious activity to the police.
Crime Wave Recap
Police are investigating a disturbing pattern of home invasions in the Geist area. Here are summaries of recent break-ins and police activity:
November 15: A home was burglarized in Feather Cove 1. The victim was working in her yard with the garage door open. When she finished, she went inside and noticed the door to the inside of the house was open. Later, she noticed an open jewelry box. Missing items included three gold necklaces, various costume jewelry, and earrings. The victim noticed a gray car parked across the street, which may have been related to an Admirals Sound break-in the day before.
November 14: A burglary in Admirals Sound. The homeowner had just left, and the suspects kicked in the doors and went directly to where the jewelry was without disturbing anything else including multiple electronic devices. Prior to the break-in, a neighbor had noticed a vehicle occupied by 3 or 4 college-age white males sitting suspiciously near some homes.
October 8: Geist Patrol and Fishers Police Department caught two black male suspects who fled from a home invasion near 86th & Fall Creek. The homeowners, retired IMPD police officers, fired shots at the intruders who fled on foot and were later caught in Windermere.
October 1: An Admirals Sound home was broken into sometime during the day. The burglar(s) came in the back door and primarily stole jewelry, leaving laptops and iPads alone.
August 27: Geist Patrol responded to an alarm call on Fall Creek Road. They identified a worker for DJ’s Tree Service in the yard, and moments later, arrested him for burglary.
Mid-July: Police were looking for a male suspect who broke into a house on Anchor Mark Drive in Admirals Bay during the day and stole more than $22,000 in jewelry.
Authorities believe that burglars are casing homes in the Geist area, and may be driving a dark-colored mid-sized SUV with Illinois plates. This description is of a suspect vehicle wanted in one of the burglaries. “We are advising all residents to increase their awareness, and if they notice something unusual or suspicious to call us, or the police,” warned Geist Patrol’s Jim Cleek (317.842.8082). “There are many desperate criminal groups committing crimes every day, near your neighborhood. Please use caution and avoid confrontation with them. Let police authorities confront them.”