The jewel thief known as the rock burglar drives a distinctive white Ford pickup truck, police disclosed Tuesday.
“There’s approximately 10,000 F-150s in Maricopa County, but with black sport mirrors and a chrome grille and chrome bumper, it’s very, very rare,” said Scottsdale police Lt. Craig Chrzanowski, head of the multiagency task force formed two years ago to chase the burglar whose exploits have garnered national notoriety.
Police on Tuesday released photographs of the truck and asked the public for help in finding it and the man or woman who drives it after their own exhaustive search failed.
The picture was taken in September as the truck went through a Valley restaurant's drive-through lane. It shows a woman’s elbow sticking out of a driver’s-side window. In the passenger side of the truck is the dark image of a man whose dimensions match those of the rock burglar, police said.
“We have evidence over the years, which I am not going to discuss, that links one person to this entire series of crimes,” Chrzanowski said.
The thief is credited with stealing millions in jewelry, cash, guns and collectibles from 317 of the north East Valley's wealthiest homes since 1992. He has been seen only twice the entire time — by a Paradise Valley police officer who in 1994 lost a foot chase to the burglar and by a homeowner who tussled with him in a dark hallway in 1995.
Police said the picture was taken shortly before the robber broke into a Scottsdale home. But they did not say why they believe the truck belongs to the rock burglar.
“There was physical evidence found at the crime scene in Scottsdale linking this vehicle to the crimes,” said Paradise Valley police detective Sgt. Alan Laitsch, who also declined to say where the restaurant is located. “I would say this is probably the most important piece of evidence (in the case). There's certainly been a lot over the years.”
The new information was released during what police said has been a particularly long hiatus for the thief, who has not broken into a home since early December. Police say the thief may work with a crew of one or more accomplices.
“This is the longest time he's taken off since 1993,” Chrzanowski said. Last year, the burglar robbed 37 Scottsdale homes and two Paradise Valley homes.
Laitsch, the first detective to identify the burglar's method of operation, said the thief has remained consistent. He selects an expensive home, sometimes a very expensive home like that of Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Steve Finley, typically located along a golf course, a greenbelt or a patch of desert. Usually, there are clues the residents are not home, such as newspapers piled out front.
And all but two of the homeowners victimized last year had forgotten to turn on their security systems before leaving.
“The method of entry is often in the master bathroom, master bedroom, master closet,” Laitsch said. “The window is broken with a rock or some other heavy object. After entering the home, the subject only stays in that part of the house, because that's where he's going to find the valuables.”
Police revised an earlier estimate of the value of the items the rock burglar has stolen over the years from more than $20 million, based on homeowner's estimates, to a conservative $12 million, based on a detailed police analysis, Chrzanowski said. None of the jewelry has been recovered. Only two items, both guns, were traced. One surfaced in Buffalo, N.Y., the other in a Las Vegas pawnshop. Police said they believe the burglar has out-of-state contacts who buy stolen goods from him.
In the past two years, since the task force was formed between Scottsdale, Paradise Valley and Phoenix, along with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office and the FBI, detectives have met weekly to discuss the case and have spent thousands of man-hours working special details and surveillance efforts.
A FBI profile of the thief completed a couple of months ago indicates he probably lives a seemingly normal life in a middle-class neighborhood, Chrzanowski said. Unlike most burglars, he probably doesn't have a drug addiction that spurs him to steal. But he probably doesn't have a day job, either, police said.
“I think this is his job,” Chrzanowski said. “I think he spends the week hunting (homes to break into), then the weekends working.”
The search: Police are seeking information on the Rock Burglar, based on a description of the thief and a truck tied to the thief.
The burglar: A white man in his 40s, about 6 feet tall, 190 pounds with a muscular build.
The truck: A white 1992-1996 Ford F-150 regular-cab, long-bed pickup truck with a chrome front bumper, a chrome grille and black sport side mirrors.
The reward: Silent Witness is offering up to $26,000 for information leading to the burglar's arrest and conviction.
Contact info: Call (800) 348-8477.