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Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
P. O. Box 3711
204 Broad Street
Martinsville, Virginia 24115
Toll Free: 800-234-6575

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Aid sought with theft probe

Thursday, March 13, 2014

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A string of appliance thefts in vacant or for-sale houses has Henry County authorities asking residents for help.

“The first step to catching these folks is to figure out what they are doing with (the appliances they are stealing),” Henry County Sheriff’s Major Ricky Walker said.

The appliances include stoves, refrigerators, washers, dryers and even an HVAC (central air) unit, he said.

Last week, the sheriff’s office issued a news release asking for people’s help with these cases. At that time, five burglaries had been reported within the previous week that involved the theft of appliances from homes that were vacant or for sale, the release stated.

Recent police reports in the Martinsville Bulletin listed the thefts of appliances March 2 on Round Hill Road; Feb. 1 on Autumn Drive, Collinsville; and March 2 on A.L. Philpott Highway. Appliances taken included a Whirlpool range valued at $500; $1,500 for a Whirlpool stove, a top-loading washing machine and an electric dryer; and $810 for a Frigidaire range and refrigerator.

Walker said the thefts generally have happened in the daytime.

“There has been forced entry made on some of the houses,” he said. In other cases, thieves might have taken advantage of a door or window left open, he said.

“But all of the cases that I’m aware of have been at vacant houses,” Walker said. There have been witnesses, he said, but it is possible that they assumed “that somebody is moving in or out.”

Lt. David White said some witnesses thought the thieves might have been maintenance people working on a house or yard.

After entering a house, thieves have been selective and mainly have taken “standard household appliances,” White said.

As a result, authorities have asked residents to be on the lookout for panel vans, enclosed trucks or trailers in their neighborhoods. Also, “if somebody shows up with appliances and are seen unloading them, please call and let us check it out,” Walker said.

“We have used all of our resources and spent a good amount of time in this investigation,” including contacting appliance dealers locally and out of the area, Walker said. “We have even contacted scrap dealers, but we haven’t been able to find out yet what they are doing” with the appliances.

One possibility authorities have considered is that the appliances are being stored, Walker said.

“If anybody has a warehouse or a storage facility they may have rented out and think it may be being used for this, please call us. We are seeking any help residents can give us on these crimes,” he said.

Toni Durden said she has a house for sale in Henry County, and it has been hit by thieves twice. On March 3, a new stove and refrigerator were taken, and on Monday, an HVAC unit was stolen.

“This is a huge problem, and I want everybody to be aware of it ... They are targeting for-sale homes that are going on the market” and/or are vacant, Durden said.

Ronnie Spencer, a broker at The Spencer Group Real Estate & Auctions, said the situation is “really bad” as thieves “are breaking in houses in broad daylight by kicking in the door.”

A refrigerator often is connected to a water line for an ice maker or water dispenser. When a refrigerator is stolen, thieves “just break that line” and take the appliance, leaving water running in the house, Spencer said.

He also asked residents to watch for similar incidents.

“If we just had neighborhoods watching for any vehicles in the area,” it might help, Spencer said. However, from some reports that he has heard, the thieves try to blend in and convince others they belong there, such as by waving to neighbors.

Spencer said he has not heard of similar incidents in Martinsville, but he speculated that “it’s just a matter of time. They are going to hit the city like they do the county.”

Patrick County Sheriff Dan Smith said most break-ins there are copper-related. However, he also is asking residents to be proactive and keep an eye out for suspicious activity at or near vacant or for-sale houses.

White and Walker said residents are the key to solving the string of thefts.

“We definitely need the assistance of the community to help,” White said.

Interim Martinsville Police Chief Eddie Cassady said the city had its first report of a stolen appliance from a vacant house within the past two days. Like other authorities, he encouraged anyone who sees anything suspicious at houses or apartment buildings to call the police.

Anyone with information is urged to call Crime Stoppers at 63-CRIME (632-7463); or in Patrick County, 694-3161.

Rewards of up to $1,000 are available through Crime Stoppers for information related to unsolved crimes. The amount of any reward is determined by the nature of the crime and the substance of information provided.


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