Langley hit by string of burglaries

Sheriff Deputy Phil Farr dusts a power drill that was left behind at the laundromat during the break-ins early Thursday morning. Police took tools into evidence that were left behind at every  location hit by the thieves. - Michaela Marx Wheatley / The Record
Sheriff Deputy Phil Farr dusts a power drill that was left behind at the laundromat during the break-ins early Thursday morning. Police took tools into evidence that were left behind at every location hit by the thieves.
— image credit: Michaela Marx Wheatley / The Record

LANGLEY — The burglar that targeted six Langley businesses early Thursday morning may have a taste for gourmet food and an inside track to Langley businesses.

Somebody broke into the Chef’s Pantry, the Fish Bowl Restaurant, Karaman Custom Upholstery, All Washed Up Laundromat earlier this week, and also tried to break into Joe’s Island Music and Cannon/Bullock distributors.

The burglar got away with boxes of steak and seafood, liquor and lots of change. While his pockets may jingle from all the coins he stole, police said overall he didn’t get much out of the crime spree.

The thief also left behind power tools and lots of damage at each location, police said.

One business owner said she believes that the thief knew her building well and may have had a key. Police are also not sure if they are dealing with one perpetrator or many.

Langley Police Chief Bob Herzberg said police were called after a burglar alarm was triggered at Joe’s Island Music on Anthes Avenue just after 5:30 a.m. Thursday.

Soon after, police discovered that the attempted break-in wasn’t an isolated incident. The intruder had made his way into the store through the Chef’s Pantry, an adjacent business.

Even though police would later learn that the thief had stolen good eats at another location, the burglar wasn’t interested in the gourmet foods at the Chef’s Pantry. Instead, change was taken.

Owner Donna Leahy said, besides a few coins, she doesn’t leave any cash in the store at night.

“He took all the silver coins and left me the pennies,” Leahy said. “He also left my donation cup.”

The cup had more money than her change drawer — a few five dollar bills and some change — but the intruder didn’t take it.

The burglar instead turned his attention to a shared bathroom door that connects the Chef’s Pantry with Joe’s Island Music, breaking it open.

Insider knowledge

However, a motion alarm at the music shop scared the intruder off, Leahy suspected.

“He must be familiar with this building. Nobody knows about this door,” Leahy said.

“They must have had a key, unless I was completely out of my mind and didn’t lock up last night,” Leahy said, adding that she never changed the lock when she moved her shop into the location and that it was the same lock that had been in the door for more than a decade.

The Langley Police Department and Island County Sheriff’s Office had their hands full this week as they investigated all of the crime scenes simultaneously.

By mid-morning, Island County Sheriff’s Deputy Laura Price was guarding the back entrance to the Fish Bowl Restaurant until crime-scene investigators could arrive to secure evidence. Nobody was allowed in.

Gourmet tastes

Herzberg later said police found a bag that weighed almost 40 pounds. It was filled with food and two high-end champagne bottles.

But the burglar didn’t go hungry. The owner of the restaurant later reported that the burglar had stolen several pounds of steaks and seafood, as well as some liquor.

But not before they had a sit-down dinner.

“They went through everything,” restaurant owner Maureen Cooke said. “They took all the crab legs, two big prosciutto, a cheesecake. Then they went on and took a WeightWatchers meal, one of those steamers and 24 ribeye steaks,” she said.

“Then they cooked up the WeightWatchers meal, helped themselves to a dessert, helped themselves to a beer and a Mike’s Hard Lemonade and then they hit the bar,” Cooke said.

“All the booze is gone.”

Cooke said she is convinced that it was two burglars who were at work in her place; more specifically, a man and a woman. The choice of food and drink and the evidence left behind has her convinced, along with some comments the crime scene investigator made.

“He alluded to the fact that a female was involved,” Cooke said.

He had found some fingerprints that could not be matched to any other woman that has access to the restaurant, she added.

“My gut tells me there are two.”

Not far from the Fish Bowl, further up Second Street, the burglar hit three neighboring businesses.

At Karaman Custom Upholstery, the back door was pried open and damaged. Tools were taken and boxes rifled through and knocked over as the burglar looked around, presumably for cash.

“The person stole a drill and drill bits, a screwdriver and a crow-bar,” said Zaven Karamanyan, the upholstery shop’s owner.

“I feel violated and kinda sad. I had my lights on and we only live a block away. I was shocked to find I had been burglarized,” he said.

“I don’t have anything here that people want. They wanted my cash box, which is not here,” Karamanyan added.

At the laundromat across the street, the burglar took the coin drops attached to the machines.

Island County Sheriff Deputy Phil Farr dusted the evidence collected at the scene for fingerprints.

He didn’t reveal if he found promising leads at the scene, but he said countless pieces of evidence, including more tools, were taken to his office for processing.

Herzberg said footprints had been found near the broken-in door at Karaman Custom Upholstery.

The burglar also tried to bust open the door to Cannon/Bullock but didn’t get in, he said.

Tools left behind

The burglar left some tools behind at all locations. Police took the items into evidence, Herzberg said.

The screwdrivers, hammers and power tools collected at the various crime scenes may have been stolen, too.

“Tools from who knows where were left behind everywhere,” Herzberg said.

Some neighbors had a theory about the stolen tools.

Nancy and Don Rowan reported that somebody broke into their place and stole tools late last week, Langley resident Fran Johnson said.

Johnson, who lives on Second Street between the Fish Bowl and the other buildings that were burglarized, added that people have begun to watch each others’ houses.

“It’s getting a little close to home,” she said.

Johnson said she didn’t observe anything suspicious before the break-ins, but after the most recent break-ins, she has taken action.

“I went to the computer and printed out a sign in 72-point size. I typed, ‘Don’t even try to get in here or you get a round of buckshot in the rear-end’ and put it on the back door,” Johnson said.

Suspect on the loose

The crimes occurred only days after police released a burglary suspect whom officers had caught while he was trying to break into Quilting by the Sea, also located just off Second Street.

Scott Watts, 25, of Langley was arrested with bleeding hands after he had tried to get into the quilting shop, but cut himself on broken glass.

The same night, somebody broke into the South Whidbey Commons, but Herzberg said he won’t know if the crimes were connected until blood samples taken from both locations were compared at a crime laboratory.

Watts was taken into custody, but wasn’t booked into jail.

Langley police, sheriff deputies and prosecutor staff all said Thursday they didn’t know why Watts went free and that it was the judge’s decision to release the man.

The Island County prosecutor’s office has filed charges for second-degree burglary against Watts and he remains free until his arraignment on April 21.

Herzberg said he didn’t know if Watts had anything to do with the recent burglaries, and said there are currently no suspects.

Herzberg said businesses in Coupeville had been broken into recently and maybe the crimes were connected.

“We don’t know if we have somebody taking on this island, or what,” he said.

While police remained tightlipped about possible suspects, Leahy said one of the officers had told her that somebody had seen a person dressed in a hooded sweater run down a Langley road about the time of the break-ins.

Activity continues

Even though Langley police and the Sheriff’s Office have stepped up patrols in Langley, Friday morning didn’t go by without an incident.

Somebody tampered with the Star Store’s electricity.

Owner Gene Felton said somebody had flipped an external kill-switch and turned off the power in parts of the building. Fortunately, none of the food at the store spoiled.

Even though it was not locked, Felton said, it must have been somebody who looked for it with a purpose and possibly knowledge of the building.

“You have to go where you don’t belong,” Felton said.

The string of burglaries in Langley started early last month, when Moonrakers Bookstore and the adjacent clothing store were struck by a burglar.

Police said anyone in Langley who may have observed any suspicious activity early Thursday morning should call Langley police or the Island County Sheriff’s Office.

Herzberg also asked all merchants to make sure their businesses are locked, and suggested making sure that money is not left behind at businesses. Storekeepers should also leave additional lights on after hours.

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