Burglars Hit Five Stores In One Night

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Melissa Higginbotham nervously huddled with friends in the Payson Village Shopping Center parking lot wondering what burglars had stolen from her Payson Jewelers business.

"We've been around for 21 years and never been hit, so I guess that's pretty good for jewelers," she said. "But that doesn't make this any easier."

As Higginbotham and other owners anxiously waited, police detectives scoured the center Monday morning searching for clues that would help solve the bold burglary of five businesses in the strip mall located at the intersection of highways 87 and 260.

The firms broken into included Corral West, The Smoke Shop, Payson Jewelers, Quik Cash and Curves.

Several vacant stores were also broken into.

While some owners continue to inventory in an effort to determine exactly how much was stolen, Higginbotham estimates about $10,000 in jewelry and cash was taken from her store.

Curves owner Martha Hemphill said only petty cash, probably less than $10, was taken.

Quik Cash manager Ron Simmons said police asked him, during their investigation, to open his safe to see if anything was stolen.

"It doesn't look like it. I think (the cash and checks are) all there," he said.

Corral West manager Angela Brockman was unsure what was taken, saying she would have to complete an inventory before making an estimate.

Police would not confirm what was taken, saying it was department policy not to release that type of information.

The investigation into the burglary began at 5:30 a.m. Monday after police received a 911 call from Curves manager Carol Downer.

"I went in to open and the first thing I noticed was a pad up against the door, that made it hard to open," she said. "Then when I got in, I saw it was a huge mess and there were big holes in the wall."

Hemphill expressed relief that the suspects had bolted before Downer's early morning arrival.

"If they'd still been in there, Carol would have been in danger," she said. Police Commander Don Engler suspects the burglars probably entered late Sunday night or early Monday morning through the northeast side of the mall.

"It was a forced entry, maybe at more than one point," he said.

Victims at the scene said it was their understanding the burglars entered the rear door of the eastern-most business -- one that formerly housed a small bank.

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Melissa Higginbotham, co-owner of Payson Jewelers, receives comfort from friend Jerry Floyd as police enter the store following a series of burglaries at Payson Village Shopping Center.

"After they got in, they made their way through the businesses (east to west) by breaking through the walls," Engler said.

Higginbotham -- after being allowed to enter the jewelry store -- returned to the shopping center parking lot saying she saw two large holes in her wall that were big enough for a person to crawl through.

"One was right by my desk. They had to crawl under (the desk)," she said.

Most of the business owners and managers at the scene said they also saw large holes in walls that they suspected burglars crawled through as they went from store to store.

Some of the businesses were equipped with burglar alarms and motion detectors, but police say none sounded.

Engler said he did not wish to comment on the failure of the security devices until the police investigation is complete.

Payson Jewelers did have a surveillance camera in operation that captured pictures of two burglars crawling on a back room floor.

Some victims at the scene said the burglars might have been able to avoid setting off alarms by crawling low on the floor.

"We are investigating if they had prior knowledge (of the alarm systems and the buildings) or they gained knowledge by surveillance," Engler said.

Police have released the jewelry store pictures to the Payson Roundup in the hope that readers might help identify the suspects.

One suspect is wearing a beige "boonie" hat, a light beige waist-long work jacket and beige work-style pants with white athletic shoes.

The second suspect is wearing a black sweatshirt and dark pants.

Police ask that anyone with knowledge of the burglary call PPD detective Steve Johnson at (928) 474-5242, ext 252.

See surveillance video clip

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