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    Police hunt for busy burglar

    Largo police and the Sheriff's Office think one person is behind a series of 25 break-ins.

    By BRIAN MOORE

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published August 4, 2001


    A man Largo police have been looking for since May is now wanted by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office in connection with as many as 25 burglaries.

    Investigators and crime analysts for the two departments first established a connection between 12 break-ins in the county's jurisdiction and 13 break-ins in Largo earlier this week. The two departments are looking for one man who they believe has knocked off the businesses, mostly convenience stores, since May 1.

    Seven of the burglaries have been on East Bay Drive and five on Seminole Boulevard. In all 25 cases, the businesses have been closed at the time of the break-in, according to Sheriff's Detective Larry Weglarz.

    Police say based on the bandit's current rate, there is a 68 percent probability he will strike again in the Largo area between now and Friday. It appears any business with windows is at risk.

    Police have linked the man to burglaries based on his method of entry -- shattering glass doors or windows and crawling in -- and pictures of him captured on security cameras, according to Largo police spokesman Mac McMullen.

    "We've been actively pursuing this guy since May," McMullen said. "We have had leads and we have pursued them, but obviously those leads haven't developed into anything substantial."

    Police are seeking a white man in his late 20s, about 5-foot-10 and 140 pounds. He has been seen on surveillance videos as having a goatee and short brown hair.

    Many of the crimes haven't been very lucrative for the burglar. In a May 26 break-in at Payless Oil, 1701 West Bay Drive, the man shattered the glass door and grabbed on box of change sitting on a counter, according to store manager Joey Goosie.

    In a hurry to flee, the man spilled most of the change on the floor and made off with less than $40 in quarters and about $12 in pennies, Goosie said. Nothing else in the store was stolen or moved.

    On June 11, he struck JJ Smoothy at 190 Keene Road. But the owner of that store, Ed Wilby, said he lost only $10 in change from the cash register that was nearly empty. Wilby said the burglary was merely an inconvenience to him.

    "He took a hammer to the cash register because he couldn't get it open," Wilby said. "He just made a great big mess and cost the business $280 to repair the door he shattered on the way in."

    Wilby took the burglary in stride, saying any business owner is at risk for such a crime. Now he is taking steps to assure it doesn't happen again. He leaves the lights on in the store and the cash register open. He wants potential burglars to see the empty register before they smash any windows.

    "And more than that, if anybody breaks in for money, they won't need to bash up the cash register, which costs me more money," he said.

    Police say the burglar always wears gloves during his burglaries, leaving little possibility of fingerprints. At JJ Smoothy, he even left his hammer sitting on the counter.

    McMullen said he could not give an estimate of how much money the burglar has collectively stolen. But the damage he has caused by breaking windows and damaging cash registers is mounting.

    To help

    Anyone with information about the crimes is asked to call Detective Larry Weglarz at 582-6554 or Largo police at 587-6730.

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