The middle drawer in Shirley Beachum’s dresser contained jewelry she had amassed throughout her life, including gifts from her sons and grandchildren, various pieces of costume jewelry and her wedding ring.
But when she returned to her Longbeach Village home Sept. 4, after leaving town for the summer, she found the drawer pulled out and her jewelry missing. Later, she noticed that her pillowcases had also been stolen, most likely to hold the items taken in the apparent burglary.
“I’m 89 years old, and they got 89 years’ worth of jewelry,” Beachum said.
Beachum’s house was one of six homes located north of Broadway in the Village that have been burglarized in the past five months. According to Longboat Key Police Chief Al Hogle, who spoke at the Longbeach Village Association meeting Oct. 6, the first burglary occurred May 20, and the most recent occurred Sept. 29, when a woman awoke to find a man in her home. Hogle told residents that when the most recent burglary occurred, a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office helicopter flew over the Village to search for suspects, and a K-9 unit was dispatched. Since then, officers both in uniform and in plainclothes have saturated the neighborhood.
“There is nothing that has happened today or in the last week that takes higher precedence than this,” Hogle said.
All six burglaries remain under active investigation, and police aren’t sure that the same individual(s) committed all six burglaries and are comparing fingerprints from incidents that occurred off the Key, including a string of burglaries in the Key Royale neighborhood of Holmes Beach. The Village break-ins have occurred both during the daytime and at night in a combination of locked and unlocked residences.
To address the issue, police will meet with residents at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13, at Longboat Key Police Department, 5460 Gulf of Mexico Drive, to discuss forming a neighborhood watch group similar to groups formed by residents of Country Club Shores and Emerald Harbor.
Hogle told residents that police need them to lock their doors and be vigilant.
“We need the neighborhood to be the eyes and ears for the community,” he said.
'A needle in a haystack'
On a single day in Manatee County, as many as 8,000 items are pawned and reported on a database that is available to law enforcement, according to Longboat Key Police Detective Capt. Kristina Roberts.
“It’s like finding a needle in a haystack,” Roberts said.
Although police can search the database by name, date range and item description, many loopholes exist.
The individual pawning the item often uses a fake ID, or the pawn shop gets creative with its wording, describing a diamond as a “clear stone,” for example. And the items at pawn shops are just a small fraction of stolen goods. Frequently, stolen gold jewelry ends up at cash-for-gold stores, which aren’t required to report to law enforcement and often melt stolen jewelry into gold bricks in as little as a day. eBay and Craigslist are also popular marketplaces for stolen goods.
Longboat Key Police Chief Al Hogle said that residents should keep valuables locked up and out of sight.
“If they’ve got jewelry, please put it into some kind of lockbox,” he said. “A trunk of a car would be safer than an unlocked house.”
Contact Robin Hartill at firstname.lastname@example.org