Police searching for suspects connected to a string of Chestnut Hill break-ins

 Capt. John Fleming of the 14th Police District speaking to residents at a meeting in May. (Matthew Grady/for NewsWorks, file)

Capt. John Fleming of the 14th Police District speaking to residents at a meeting in May. (Matthew Grady/for NewsWorks, file)

After a series of narrowly averted apprehensions, police in Northwest Philadelphia are seeking the public’s assistance in locating suspects they believe are responsible for at least nine residential break-ins in Chestnut Hill. Northwest officials are on the lookout for a white Nissan Altima that has been associated with the crimes.

 

The occupants of the car vary, but police state that witnesses typically report seeing two black males. On occasion, it’s a black male and female team.

In addition to the burglaries, which range in scope from no losses to six-figure heists, police are also concerned that the suspects have been observed – and, in at least one case, stopped – by police, only to drive off at very high speeds in an extremely reckless fashion.

A cover story

While the 14th District is known to be prone to burglaries, local police are trying a variety both proactive and reactive tactics to combat this. Property crime is on the downswing both locally and citywide, but this burglary pattern continues to vex police in both Philadelphia and in surrounding townships.

The suspects have been parking on the street and knocking on the door of a targeted house. If no one is home, they will typically kick in a rear door to gain entry. Going to the master bedroom, they take a pillowcase and fill it with jewelry.

If the door is answered by a resident, the suspects adopt a cover story, often asking for someone by fictitious name. The moniker “Abigail McMenamin” has been used, according to police. Some houses have been approached multiple occasions.

$100,000 heist in Northwest

Their biggest theft to date in the Northwest took place this spring.

Sometime after 7:30 a.m. on May 15, someone kicked in the doors of a private residence on the 700 block of St. Andrews Street in Chestnut Hill. Once inside, thieves ransacked the bedroom, ultimately taking $100,000 of jewelry from the home, said at the time to be the residence of the close relative of a once-prominent Philadelphia figurehead.

According to police reports, an alarm was installed in the home but was not activated at the time of the burglary, a trait shared with several other recent burglaries in the area.

Earlier this week, the suspects were seen casing a house on the 500 block of W. Mermaid Ln. A detective attempted to follow them, but the suspects again evaded capture by catapulting across sidewalks and by driving the wrong way on one-way streets.

Every occurrence risks detection by police, especially since the same general area is being repeatedly targeted. Lt. George McClay of the Northwest Detective Division observed that, despite the risk, burglars become comfortable working in a specific area as they become familiar with the environment.

Playing it safe

Given the danger inherent in vehicle pursuits, the Philadelphia Police Department has adopted a pursuit policy that limits the abilities of officers to engage in chases, especially in the unmarked vehicles used by detectives.

“These burglaries aren’t worth it to kill some poor person,” said McClay.

Despite this limitation, local police are undertaking various tactics to locate the suspects and their car. According to McClay, there are several detective teams currently assigned to Chestnut Hill. He added that city police are in close contact with their counterparts in the immediate suburbs.

Augmenting the detective teams and routine patrol assignments, Capt. John Fleming of the 14th District has dedicated both uniform and plainclothes teams to the area. Fleming and his aide often patrol the area during their daytime shifts, too.

“For us, it’s not only about getting the information out about that car to the rest of our officers,” said Fleming, “but encouraging an aggressive response to all burglarized homes.”

Asking for the public’s help

Despite the increased police focus, McClay is asking for the public’s help to capture the suspects and prevent further burglaries from occurring. Residents are encouraged to call 911 in the event of suspicious activity.

Beyond this, McClay promoted surveillance cameras and alarm systems, specifically recommending wireless back-up alarms that cannot be defeated by burglars. He noted many homes with alarms have delay timers to prevent false triggers and that even five minutes can often be enough time for a burglar to enter and exit a home.

Detectives recommend photographs be taken of all valuables – especially jewelry – and that serial numbers of electronics be noted. In the event of theft, these steps assist with identification. Whenever possible, valuables should be stored in a safe or a safe deposit box.

Users of Apple electronic products are encouraged by police to connect to iCloud so they can determine the location of their device in the event of theft.

With aggressive tactics on both sides of the city border and assistance from residents, police hope to find the white Altima and end the rash of burglaries.

“We’re working hand in hand with everybody,” said McClay, “and we’re all trying to get somebody out of this.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.