Wyalusing Hit By Rash of Break-Ins
Restaurant owner John Monterosso was disheartened to find the front door to Original Italian Pizza (OIP) on Main Street in Wyalusing busted open when he arrived for work on May 9. As he entered the business, he saw that the cash register had also been broken into pieces. The cash inside it was gone, and there was additional vandalism that forced him to close the business on one of his busiest days of the week.
“Wyalusing is a really nice community. It’s very quiet. In seven years, nothing had happened to my place,” Monterosso remarked. The boldness of someone breaking into OIP through the front door unnerved him.
Bob’s Restaurant owner Bob Squier shares Monterosso’s sentiments. Prior to the weekend of May 14, there had been no problems in the 15 years that he has operated the establishment, located in the Farm and Home Plaza on Route 6. A 5:50 a.m. Sunday morning call from an employee who arrived to open the restaurant literally served as a rude awakening to Squier and as many as 10 additional business owners that Wyalusing is experiencing a crime spree.
Like most of the other business owners who were interviewed, Squier believes that the burglar is only looking for money. The ice cream service window at the restaurant was smashed to gain entry, and the cash register was busted open, netting the robber about seven dollars in quarters. The greater loss was realized when Bob’s, too, had to remain closed for a day.
The break-ins began as early as April 22, when a door to Jaime’s Place Salon on Main Street showed obvious signs of an unsuccessful entry. Despite the fact that the potential thieves did not gain access to her business, Jaime Smith, who has run the shop on Main Street since 2004, has taken preventive measures to thwart future attempts.
“We used to have just a normal lock on the door,” she explained. “Now, we have a bolt lock.” Smith attributes the rash of break-ins to the sluggish economy and an influx of people to the county. “I guess you have to expect this sort of thing when there are more people around, but it’s scary.”
“It’s a sign of the times. I wasn’t that surprised,” said D.G. Nicholas manager Bill Faulkiner, who was notified at about 10:30 p.m. on May 1 by the company that installed the alarm system that the Route 6 store had been burglarized. He said that the shrill sound of the alarm likely scared away the culprit(s) before anything was stolen or severely damaged.
As the robberies and attempts have continued, surveillance tapes from cameras mounted at several of the businesses have indicated that, at least at the plaza, the burglar was working alone, was well prepared, and appears to be quite comfortable in his environment. Recordings from the break-ins this past weekend show that the small, wiry male roamed back and forth in front of and behind the plaza for as long as an hour and 15 minutes, occasionally ducking into the shadows as vehicles passed on Route 6. He may have even had a vehicle parked at the northwest end of the building, as he can be seen stepping in and out of camera range and returning with the crowbar that he used to gain entrance to both Bob’s and Connies Supermarket and to try to open an ATM machine at Connies from inside the store.
“He’s a pretty agile guy—like a ninja,” said plaza owner Dave Burgess as he watched footage of the intruder throwing himself through the front window of Bob’s. Grainy footage collected from his cameras shows that the thief attempted to enter every business in the plaza. Rudimentary comparisons of the shadowy figure standing next to various doors and windows to that of a person six-feet tall and 175 pounds indicate that the robber is between 5-foot-7- and 5-foot-9-inches tall and probably l55 pounds or less. During the plaza break-ins, he wore a Gortex-style jacket with a built-in visor that shields his face. There is a tag visible on the back of his neck. He was wearing light-colored sneakers—possibly high-tops.
Fortunately, there is additional footage that, when put together, might reveal more of a timeline for the most recent incident. Inside Connies, for instance, the intruder took some small change from the office, plus several packs of cigarettes and a flashlight. About an hour later, he is seen on surveillance video stuffing the flashlight into his right pocket after exiting Bob’s Restaurant via a rear door.
As of May 17, state police had yet to retrieve copies of footage that Burgess, grocery store owner Connie Yonkin, and Miller’s Pharmacy owner Jeff Pitcher had prepared for investigators, which proved discouraging to business owners who want the break-ins to cease, whether or not the thief is ever caught and convicted. Police, in fact, have not yet requested a copy of Yonkin’s footage.
“I find it frustrating, but I understand that they have a wide area to cover,” said Yonkin, who hopes that the emboldened robber(s) will at least begin to realize that the community is now on high alert.
“Sooner or later, he’ll trip himself,” suggested Squier.
“The more he does it, the more likely he is to be caught,” Yonkin agreed, though she conceded. “There aren’t many of us left in town for him to hit.” The safe in her store, in which there was a small amount of cash, was rendered inoperable by the thief’s unsuccessful attempt to open it with a hammer and screwdriver.
State police do have surveillance footage from D.G. Nicholas Auto Parts on Route 6 east of downtown, where several businesses were broken into between April 30 and May 2. The auto parts store is at the front of a building shared by a non-retail, gas-related contracting business that was also burglarized.
Next door, the front entrance to Wyalusing Beverage was busted open before the office door was broken into. Again, the physical loss to the business was greater than the amount of money stolen.
“I was happy that they didn’t do more damage, but of course, you don’t feel good at all about it,” said beverage store owner Bob McAndrew, who noted that security at the business has been enhanced with bars on the doors and other measures that he did not want to disclose.
Monterosso hopes to have an alarm system installed at OIP by the end of the week. “I have to. Once is enough,” he said of his response to the break-in.
In addition to the aforementioned, break-ins also occurred at the Wyalusing Hotel and B&K Equipment. Some business owners did not want to be interviewed, but those who were more candid about their experiences agreed that the at-large criminal has not gained much from his efforts, causing more destruction than an actual loss of assets. Some expressed concerns that the robber(s) may move on to private residences if not soon apprehended. No one who was interviewed can remember a crime spree in Wyalusing’s history that has lasted this long or that affected as many businesses.
The investigation, at present, is being handled by state police at Towanda, although it has involved numerous patrolmen, including personnel from the state police barracks at Tunkhannock, this past weekend, because state police at Towanda were preoccupied with matters elsewhere in the county.
“I hope they catch him. He’s raising hell all over town,” said Burgess, who is now leaving the canopy lights at the plaza on all night long.
According to Towanda Barracks’ commander Cpl. Robert Grimes, Trooper Nate Lewis is heading the investigation into the break-ins.
“We’re hoping to develop some leads and narrow down the suspects and make an arrest before too long,” he stated.