by Hy Conrad
The first of the break-ins occurred on Friday. At 11:49 a.m., a silent alarm was triggered, alerting the police of Newton City, Ohio that the front door at 2100 Elm Street had been forced open. A squad car was quickly dispatched. Arriving at the suburban residence, the officers found a splintered door frame, but no other obvious signs of burglary. The homeowner was notified and immediately came home from work.
“Nothing was taken,” Doug Atkins reported. “I keep a careful inventory of valuables. Not a hair is out of place. Luckily, no one was home. The kids are in summer camp and my wife is visiting family until next Thursday.”
The very next morning, Saturday, at 11:35 a.m., it happened again. The silent alarm at the Atkins’ house was once again triggered. When a patrol care arrived, the officers found the door once again forced and nothing missing. “If the guy’s looking for something, he’s being very neat,” observed a patrolman. “Not a speck of dust seems to be disturbed.”
On the third day, Atkins made a show of getting into his car and driving off. By 11 a.m., he had sneaked back and set up his own look- out post directly across the street. Even though his view of the front door was blocked by a high hedge, Atkins found an angle that gave him an unencumbered view. But no one came. His trap hadn’t worked.
On Monday morning, at 11: 41, the intruder struck again. Doug Atkins was not totally unprepared for this one. He had taken the precaution of hiding a camera just inside the living room door, giving himself a video of half the entry hall and the second floor staircase. But even this proved futile. The camera dutifully recorded the sound of the door being forced, it even caught the scrape of shoes on the tile floor. But this time, for some reason, the intruder didn’t step more than a few feet into the house. And exactly ten seconds after entering, he or she was gone. The local mail carrier had been on the block just five minutes before and, when interviewed, didn’t remember seeing any strange cars or people.
“It’s like he’s toying with us,” a frustrated sergeant growled. “The next time he comes…” But there wasn’t to be a next time. The door was never again forced and the alarm never again went off.
This odd little crime spree was made even more notable by the occupation of the victim. Doug Atkins, as it happened, was the Newton City police chief and his colleagues statewide were having a good, long laugh at Chief Atkins’ expense.
A week after the last break-in, he received a note in the mail. “Chief Atkins, For the past couple months, you’ve been doing your best to get the goods on me. I guess I finally outsmarted you. Sorry I had to break into your home to do it. (signed) Still at large.”
“Well, at least this provides some motive,” Atkins mused. “Whoever broke in was somehow trying to escape arrest.”
Atkins decided to review his unsolved cases and found three that fit the bill, cases that he had personally pursued over the previous two months.
Case #1: Robbery. The safe of the Second Baptist Church had been broken into and $100,000 of the building fund stolen. Chief Atkins suspected the robber had inside help. The Reverend Billy Green was a chief suspect and had been interviewed several times. Just at the point when Billy seemed ready to crack, he disappeared, never to be seen again. This happened just one day before the first Elm Street break-in.
Case #2: Arson. The Bulky Woman Clothing Store was near bankruptcy. Then one night, seven weeks ago, it went up in flames. Traces of accelerant were discovered as was a hefty fire insurance policy. The owner, Jessica Grandee, had an alibi for the night of the fire, but she was still under suspicion. The nature of the work suggested to Chief Atkins that she had hired a professional. But all attempts to track down the arsonist failed.
Case #3: Kidnapping. Holly Buckley, eight-year-old daughter of Jason Buckley, had been kidnapped after ballet class while waiting for the chauffeur. A ransom was paid and Holly returned safely. Although the girl never caught a glimpse of her kidnapper’s face, her testimony indicated that he was working alone and had some knowledge of her father’s habits. Art Tyner, an ex-employee, had been seen loitering in the vicinity of the ransom’s drop-off site but there was never enough evidence to make an arrest.
“It’s gotta be one of these cases,” Chief Atkins theorized. “Now, if I can just figure out why my home was broken into, then I’m sure I’d know who to go after.”