The Rock Burglar, a thief who broke into hundreds of luxury houses in and around Scottsdale and evaded local and federal authorities for more than a decade, has vanished.
Investigators haven’t had a lead in the case since his last job in early 2005.
They can only speculate why the thief faded away after intruding into homes owned by former Vice President Dan Quayle and former Arizona Diamondbacks players Steve Finley and Mark Grace, among others.
Perhaps the Rock Burglar invested his ill-gotten gain in stocks to finance a comfortable retirement. Maybe he croaked in a car crash. Perhaps he moved his illicit operation out of state. Maybe he’s writing a tell-all memoir while he waits for the statutes of limitations to run out.
The Valley’s top cops simply don’t know.
Paradise Valley police Lt. Alan Laitsch, who’s been on the case as long as anyone, has his own theory.
“I wouldn’t bet any money on this, but I think at least here in Arizona the efforts that were being made to catch this guy were so great that he just decided to go somewhere else,” he said.
Investigators from the Scottsdale, Paradise Valley and Phoenix police departments, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars trying to catch the thief, or more likely, team of thieves.
An officer lost a foot race with a suspect, and a resident wrestled with a stranger in his home, but police never made an arrest.
Since the Rock Burglar team became inactive, investigators have shelved evidence and case files. The multiagency Rock Burglar task force hasn’t met in years.
“When we followed up on the last leads that we currently had, when we took them to fruition, we just decided that we would stop meeting unless something had come up,” said Scottsdale police Sgt. Eric Rasmussen, one of the top investigators in the case.
And nothing — absolutely nothing — has come up.
“Every once in a while I’ll get a burglary that happens in an affluent part of our city that causes me to scratch my head. You know, it’s close, but not exactly,” he said.
The Rock Burglar team’s tactics were fairly simple.
Investigators believe there were three members in the crew: the burglar, a lookout and a get-away driver. Maybe there was a fourth — probably one woman.
They cased secluded houses in wealthy areas seeking evidence that the residents were away. Uncollected newspapers, mail and bottled water deliveries likely were key indicators.
Then they smashed rocks, potted plants, patio furniture or whatever was handy in residents’ backyards through back windows, most often in the master bathroom windows, which were rarely wired to alarms.
Most often the burglars used rocks, which led Laitsch to dub them the Rock Burglars.
Once they gained entry, they plundered the master bedrooms for money, jewelry, watches and guns. They never ventured into the rest of the homes, trying to elude motion-detector alarms.
Police believe the thieves escaped by running along golf courses or washes before meeting up with get-away vehicles, which were probably SUVs or other vehicles common to affluent neighborhoods.
“There many times when they would hit a house and they would set an alarm off, get nothing and then wind up finding another house,” Laitsch said.
The Rock Burglar team’s career statistics are impressive.
Investigators credit the thieves with 331 burglaries in Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Phoenix, Cave Creek and Carefree from 1993 to 2005.
In hindsight, the four Phoenix jobs, which were all in the Biltmore area of east Phoenix, may not have been the Rock Burglar team’s work, Rasmussen said.
However, the burglars probably pulled off a couple of jobs in Scottsdale in the early 1990s that were not properly credited to them.
Overall, the combined value of the cash and property taken during the spree exceeded $10 million. At least two jobs were good for more than $1 million each.
Police recovered only two stolen items, both guns, one each in Arizona and New York.
Perhaps the Rock Burglar team quit because investigators got close.
In 2004, police recovered a Jack in the Box restaurant receipt from a crime scene.
They used video surveillance tape from the restaurant’s drive-through lane to tie the receipt to a white Ford F-150 pickup truck manufactured from 1992 to 1996. A woman was behind the wheel.
Police sent about 100 officers from several agencies across the county to locate nearly 6,000 F-150s that fit the general description. They found about six trucks with the after-market mirrors and a specialty grill that matched the truck in the video, but they ruled out the owners. They kept searching. Rasmussen said: “We would put dozens and dozens of officers out at different times at high-traffic areas looking for white pickup trucks. And if we found one, we would zip up to it and try to write down its information and then research the registered owners and stuff like that.”
Eventually, police went to the media with the information. The story got saturation coverage that never led to a solid lead.
Rasmussen disclosed for the first time that investigators lifted a fingerprint from a Jack in the Box receipt. But without finding the truck, they were unable to identify the woman who left it.
“That fingerprint is still swimming around out there and still never got a match on it,” Rasmussen said.
Though investigators were reluctant to discuss tactics during the crime spree, they confirmed that they set up stings using bait houses and stakeouts. Neither paid off.
Rasmussen said, “We had detectives bit by scorpions. I had a detective walk up on a mountain lion in the desert one night. He just very nonchalantly got on the radio and said, ‘Hey, if you hear any shooting over here, it’s just me. I walked up on a mountain lion.’ ”
Police also stumbled across other desert wildlife — rattlesnakes, javelinas, teenagers in parked cars — but not the Rock Burglar. Laitsch said, “He was the only snake I didn’t run into.”
Police checked hospital emergency room records for snake bite victims on nights when the burglars struck. They cross-referenced the thieves’ schedule with the phases of the moon, seasons of the year and the construction dates of the houses that were robbed.
None of it panned out.
Police haven’t given up hope of catching the Rock Burglars. Rasmussen said, “There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t think trying to do something else on that case, something I might have forgotten.”