Burglars stole from Seattle-area’s rich and famous, but left a few too many clues behind
To hear police tell it, they are likely candidates for a Dumbest Criminals trophy — a trio of bungling burglars who kept dropping things, including a cell phone and a traceable welfare-benefits card left at crime scenes.
One member, who was out on parole, wore his GPS monitoring device to their heists.
Even so, the burglars were, in some respects, skilled and effective.
They became known as the Rock Smash Crew for typically using stones to smash alarm systems, windows and sliding glass doors at 123 high-end Seattle-area homes in what police called one of the biggest burglary-ring cases in Northwest history. They were in and out of houses in just minutes.
“It seemed we were always 2 or 3 minutes behind them,” Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett said at a news conference announcing charges last week. “They were very talented in their criminal enterprise.”
The trio is accused of targeting the homes of millionaires, including the residence of Seattle Mariners Cy Young Award- winning pitcher Felix Hernandez, which was looted of jewelry and mementos including an inexpensive replica of a New York Yankees World Series ring owned by his son and a keepsake watch with “King Felix” engraved on it.
Police say one of the suspects was wearing the watch when arrested.
Still, the gang successfully evaded the cops for almost 10 months, with suspects arrested in just the last two weeks. Ultimately, they earned some grudging respect from a half-dozen police agencies who worked in tandem to break the case.
Investigators were impressed by the haul — more than $3 million in stolen property, they estimate — and the choice of targets, most of them homes worth more than $3 million. They also drove expensive cars in an attempt to blend in at the upscale neighborhoods they cased and hit, police said.
With their spoils, police say, the trio bought or leased five luxury vehicles, dined at fine restaurants and took vacations in Las Vegas, and blew some of the loot on strippers.
It seemed we were always 2 or 3 minutes behind them. They were very talented in their criminal enterprise.
Steve Mylett, Bellevue police chief
“We’d been following them for quite a while,” Mylett said.
Bellevue is a wealthy suburb across Lake Washington from Seattle, with residents including Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, Clippers owner Steve Ballmer and other billionaires — none of them victims of the burglaries, though some of their neighbors were.
A big break in the case came in November on nearby Mercer Island. A homeowner discovered a cellphone in his backyard, and learned from a neighbor that several men had just passed through. The homeowner called police.
Police later learned the phone allegedly belonged to Alonzo Severson, 25, who is now charged with burglary and trespassing and is being held on $500,000 bail.
Police say Severson committed four burglaries in Seattle, Bellevue and the wealthy enclave of Medina in one night — New Year’s Eve. In Medina, a license plate reader — which snaps photos of all vehicles entering the town where Bill Gates and other megawealthy live — recorded Severson’s BMW passing by that night, prosecutors said.
Bellevue police subsequently found an electronics benefit card in the name of the girlfriend of one of the two other suspects, dropped outside a home where a camera and a gold Tiffany watch had been taken in a burglary.
That helped lead to the arrest of two other suspects, Joseph Sims, 26, and Shon Shannell, 29. Prosecutors say they are still processing charges to be filed against them. Shannell is being held without bail and Sims is held on $250,000 bail.
In charging papers, Deputy King County Prosecutor Gavriel Jacobs alleges that Severson “engaged in what can only be described as a crime spree. ... Furthermore, the defendant has a history of violent offenses,” including assault and two arson convictions.
Severson was on parole and under GPS monitoring when at least some of the burglaries occurred, Jacobs said.
About $400,000 in loot has been recovered, police said, including a Hermes handbag valued at more than $200,000. But investigators have yet to search a number of safety-deposit boxes and storage facilities linked to the suspects.
Shannell was arrested and convicted in 2010 of being the “Santa Claus burglar.” He earned the moniker by stripping naked and trying to wriggle down the chimney of a Seattle home — then got stuck. He was freed by fire fighters after 45 minutes and claimed he was just trying to retrieve his backpack.
Shannell got a 17-month sentence from a judge who called his excuse “unbelievable.”
Anderson is a special correspondent.
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