The elusive jewel thief known as the rock burglar last used his pitching arm in Paradise Valley a year ago Thanksgiving.
Though busy throwing rocks through windows elsewhere, the crook has skirted the Valley’s wealthiest municipality for a year now — a first since authorities started chasing him more than a decade ago.
"I think the longest he had ever gone before (between burglaries in Paradise Valley), is six or seven months," said Paradise Valley police detective Sgt. Alan Laitsch, spokesman for the multijurisdictional task force seeking the thief.
"He’s not hitting Paradise Valley, but I won’t rest until the guy is in custody," he said. "So, it doesn’t feel like a victory at all to me."
Since 1993, the rock burglar is credited with stealing more than $20 million in jewelry, guns and cash from almost 300 upscale homes in Paradise Valley, Scottsdale, Fountain Hills, Cave Creek and the surrounding area.
In previous years, half those burglaries occurred in Paradise Valley — an average of more than 10 a year, police say.
This year was different.
So far in 2003, the burglar has broken into 28 homes, all but two in Scottsdale, Laitsch said. The other two have been in the Fountain Hills area.
"There’s been about two cases where more than $50,000 was taken," he said. "And a number of cases in which nothing was taken, and probably another another seven or eight cases where it’s been less than $5,000."
Last year, after a flurry of break-ins in Paradise Valley, including the home of Arizona Diamondback Steve Finley, police initiated a six-prong publicity campaign on how residents can avoid being victims. The No. 1 tip: Have newspaper deliveries stopped before leaving town.
Paradise Valley Police Chief John Wintersteen credits the absence of rock burglaries to a better informed public.
"I really believe that more people have alarms, have glass break (alarms) in their master baths and bedrooms, and are arming those alarms before going out," he said.
Police conducted several unsuccessful surveillance efforts.
"There have been times when we were just a step behind him," Laitsch said.
Tips from the public, possibly prompted by the $20,000 reward, haven’t been fruitful.
A $20,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the capture of the rock burglar. Silent Witness can be reached at: (480) 948-6377, (800) 343-8477, (602) 261-8600 or (480) 837-8446 for Spanish speakers.