A team of burglars is believed to be the perpetrators of 20 or more home break-ins since November, according to Huntington Beach Police. Entry in most cases has been made by forcing a window or door out of view from the front of the house, and cash and jewelry are being targeted.
"We believe at least two, maybe three are working together, breaking into these homes," said Huntington Beach Police Lt. Mitchell O'Brien.
Investigators are pursuing leads that the same burglary team may also be committing some of the burglaries in other Orange County cities.
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Following the most recent Huntington Beach burglary this week, police released images of what they believe is a burglar and a vehicle recorded by home security cameras in a neighborhood victimized before Christmas.
That break-in occurred after retirees Roger and Susan Miller had left their house of 45 years on a late morning errand. Neighbors became suspicious of a man walking in the neighborhood after exiting a Jeep re-parked by a driver who remained behind the wheel.
One neighbor came over to check, discovered a bedroom window had been jimmied open, and called police and the Millers. When the Millers returned, they found that their bedroom had been pilfered, and jewelry, cash, and a coin collection were missing.
At least one home security camera on the block recorded a man walking away from the burglarized home with a tote bag Roger Miller recognized as his. Further review of the video revealed that earlier, the Jeep had followed the Millers as they drove away to run their errand, and then returned to park near the Miller home, Susan Miller said.
Police have surmised the burglary team has a method of casing and surveillance, enabling the break-ins to be made while no one is home.
"It's not just the value, but the memories," lamented Roger Miller.
The stolen jewelry included gifts he has given his wife since they first met in high school, in addition to ancestral heirlooms that date back generations. Police are urging residents to be alert to strangers trying to enter a neighbor's property, park in the driveway, or otherwise acting suspiciously.
A posting on the police department's Facebook page has drawn dozens of comments.
Lt. O'Brien acknowledged the video was not clear enough to reveal facial features. But he said the black rims make the white four door Jeep somewhat distinctive, and investigators hope someone who recognizes it will call the Huntington Beach Police Tip Line at 714-375-5066.