(Treasure Coast Newspapers (Stuart, FL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 09--MARTIN COUNTY -- They're brazen and moving into high-end electronics, including large flat-screen TVs that clearly don't fit into a pillowcase.
Pillowcase burglars seemed to have shed the linen and rental cars for stolen vans that can haul bigger loot.
Their methods are changing, said Sheriff William Snyder, and that's why the penalties need to be steeper -- something he hopes will happen with a new law by the end of the legislative session.
Pillowcase burglaries are few and far between lately, he said, but that doesn't mean people like Cordy Leprell Walton, 35, of Riviera Beach, and Courtney Desmond Zieler, 22, of West Palm Beach, arrested Monday, weren't plotting the first one reported on the Treasure Coast since early February -- and the first one in the county since December last year.
Snyder said their ways may have evolved during those long stretches without any pillowcase burglaries.
Pillowcase burglars generally have consisted of South Florida men who travel to affluent neighborhoods near interstates throughout Florida. They've hit more than 200 homes in Martin and St. Lucie counties in the past few years.
They are named after their method of using pillowcases from the homes they hit to carry their loot and typically go from one neighborhood to another, burglarizing several houses along the way.
Walton and Zieler are accused of burglarizing only one home Monday, but Snyder said they were heading into another neighborhood to burglarize more houses when a resident reported their vehicle as suspicious and tipped off officials.
Pillowcase burglars usually take smaller items, such as cash, jewelry and small electronics, which they can carry away quickly in pillowcases.
Although officials did find jewelry and three laptops in the stolen van, Snyder said they also found a pressure cleaner and a large flat-screen TV. He said it was unusual larger items were taken, but a string of Port St. Lucie burglaries reported in January involved TVs and computers.
Snyder said pillowcase burglars possibly have found a market to pawn high-end electronics.
Also, in Monday's burglary, Snyder said no pillowcases were taken. He said the suspected pillowcase burglars used the van so they could haul large items and even dumped the van's backseat in the yard of the home they hit.
Snyder said it probably made more sense for them to steal the van rather than rent a vehicle so they wouldn't have to worry about damaging a rental.
"It does appear from what's occurring in St. Lucie County and what we just saw that there may be a morphing going on -- that they may be evolving," Snyder said.
The main thing that hasn't changed is these aren't typical burglars who hit houses in their own neighborhoods, Snyder said. These burglars travel outside their areas intentionally trying to avoid law enforcement, he said.
"These people don't follow a script," Snyder said. "It's not hugely relevant what we call them or where exactly they come from -- we know that we have a phenomenon of traveling burglars."
A new law adding a felony charge for a person to travel across county lines to commit a felony would aid law enforcement in fighting pillowcase burglars even more, Snyder said.
They know they have a better chance of getting away with it in another county where officials don't know them or have confidential sources who know them, he said.
"They're intentionally going to other counties to thwart law enforcement abilities to detect them and apprehend them," Snyder said. "They deserve an additional sanction."
After Monday's pillowcase burglary, Walton was charged with two counts of grand theft, burglary, aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, aggravated fleeing and eluding, resisting arrest without violence and driving with a revoked license knowingly. He remained in the Martin County Jail on Tuesday with a $206,250 bail, according to a jail official.
Zieler was charged with grand theft, burglary and resisting arrest without violence. He was being held at the Martin County Jail on Tuesday without bond, Snyder said.
If the new law had been in effect, each would have received another felony charge, which possibly would increase their bail and punishments even more.
Also, anyone in the vehicle used to travel to commit the burglary would face a felony charge, even if they never left the vehicle.
Most importantly, they wouldn't be able to bail out of jail before having a first appearance in front of a judge, giving the State Attorney's Office an opportunity to increase bail amounts.
"That gives us time to explain to the judge the danger of them not coming back -- the fact that these are traveling burglars," Snyder said.
High bail amounts have been imposed upon these pillowcase burglars after their first appearances, with many of them reaching $1 million. Snyder said standard bond amounts for burglaries aren't that much -- $2,500 for in county and $5,000 for out of county, according a jail official.
However, that standard bond list can't be used if the new law goes into effect Oct. 1, Snyder said. The bill for that new law passed the House vote April 1, and its companion bill in the Senate has passed two committees and has one more to go Wednesday before a Senate vote and Gov. Rick Scott's approval.
"I think it will have a deterrent effect and keep them from coming into counties that are using the law," Snyder said.
High bond amounts, which lead to long jail stays, is one of the reasons why pillowcase burglaries have slowed in the county, Snyder said. Officials have seen pillowcase burglars posting on Facebook warning others to avoid the county.
Another reason is residents have been put on alert for pillowcase burglars, Snyder said. On Monday, a resident reported a suspicious vehicle in the Tropical Farms neighborhood, then the Sheriff's Office received several calls from people saying they spotted the second suspect.
"If this was in a normal county without the people being engaged, we wouldn't have gotten a call on the first guy, we wouldn't have caught him, and we wouldn't have caught the second guy," Snyder said. "This whole county has become my posse."
Click here to read more TCPalm.com team coverage of pillowcase burglaries on the Treasure Coast.
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