Police On High Alert Following Burglaries

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Tuesday night it appeared as if Payson Police were going to get lucky and catch those responsible for the burglary of five area businesses early Monday morning. But that break didn't happen.

That night, police received a call that a couple of men were trying to sell gems to an employee at the local Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. Within minutes, police surrounded the restaurant and drew guns on the men, who were with the worker in his car. Police say that it turns out the two incidents were completely unrelated.

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As part of their ongoing investigation into recent burglaries, Det. Brian Havey of the Gila County Sheriff's Office joins Commander Don Engler and Sgt. John Heflin of the Payson Police Department to check out a possible lead near the 300 block of S. Beeline Highway Tuesday night.

"We are not used to things being just a coincidence," said Commander Don Engler of the Payson Police Department. "It appears as if the two men at Kentucky Fried Chicken were trying to sell other gems and things. The victim (Payson Jewelers) said those things were not among the items stolen."

Co-owner of Payson Jewelers, Melissa Higginbotham, said, "I bet those guys were surprised when the police surrounded them, and they just happened to pick a bad day to try and sell gems."

The men were detained briefly, questioned and later released.

It all started early Monday morning, when police say the manager of Curves came to work about 5:30 a.m. She found a huge hole cut in the inside wall of her business. Police were called and discovered the burglars had smashed through the wall adjoining Payson Jewelers, creating short tunnels. The shops are located in the Payson Village Shopping Center, near the corner of Highway 87 and Highway 260.

The shops broken into were Corral West, the Smoke Shop, Payson Jewelers, Quik Cash and Curves.

Police say the thieves appeared to have entered at the northeast side of the mall. They believe there was more than one entry point into the strip mall and that the burglars crawled through these holes as they went from store to store.

Payson Jewelers has several 24-hour security cameras. Police are hoping residents can help identify the burglars. Part of the surveillance video of the break-in is posted on the Roundup Web site, payson.com.

In the video, two people can be seen crawling on their bellies throughout the jewelry store. Police and store owners say the thieves must have known there was an infrared system inside to detect movement. That system sets off the alarm system.

Higginbotham wants to let everyone know that no customer jewelry was stolen during the break-in. She said all of the jewelry customers bring in for repair, etc. is stored in very secure safes. However, what's painful to her is that the burglars stole about $10,000 worth of merchandise that was not in a safe.

"They stole mostly our scrap gold and jewelry we were making to sell during the Christmas season," she said. She noted that jewelers in her shop make a lot of their own pieces on site. "They wouldn't have gotten anything if we didn't have all our work in progress there," she added.

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

Higginbotham said she would increase store security as a result of the burglary.

"We are adding more cameras and infrared sensors near the floor and a couple of safes to store our jewelry," she said.

Higginbotham says there is some good news in all of this. "No employees were here who could have been hurt. No customer jewelry was taken. We have insurance," she said.

She commented that when she first heard her store had been burglarized she thought, "Thank goodness no one was here at the time. And I've told people for years, there's nothing in this store worth dying for," she said.

The manager of Quik Cash, Ron Simmons, says, "When these people came in they saw we had motion detectors and they left. We're lucky. They didn't get anything from us. We couldn't figure out why, if they were that determined to get in, they didn't take anything. We had our security system checked out and it was working that night," he said. Simmons added that his company is planning to install security cameras too.

"I think things happen for a reason to make us more aware and to be more careful. We no longer live in a small mountain community that's free of crime," Higginbotham said.

Engler said his department is checking with other police departments around the state to see if there might be any connection to other burglaries. He said there might be a tie to some jewelry store burglaries in Flagstaff, but he's still researching that possibility.

"We're checking a lot of different possibilities," said Engler. "The officers on the street are on high alert for anything related to the case," he said. He added that officers have been working hard on this case, checking all avenues to solve this crime. "Among other things, they are driving by businesses more at night now, checking pawn shops for any of the stolen goods, too," he added.

Engler finds the incident troubling. "This was an unusual occurrence. It's been several years since we've had a burglary like this one," he said.

Engler said police have additional photos of the burglars and are waiting to get those back from a lab. He said if anyone recognizes the people in the photos, or video, they're encouraged to call the Payson Police Department, Detective Steve Johnson at (928) 474-5242, ext 252.

See original story:


Burglars hit five stores in one night (Oct. 25)

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