The jewel thief who preys on million-dollar homes in the north East Valley struck four times in the past 10 days, police said Tuesday.
Three of the homes were in Scottsdale, and the fourth burglary, reported Sunday night, was in Paradise Valley — the town's first break-in by the infamous "rock burglar" in a year.
Homeowners on Tuesday were still trying to assess what was stolen by the crook who has burglarized almost 300 houses since police started identifying his work in 1992, said Paradise Valley police detective Sgt. Alan Laitsch. The thief is credited with taking more than $20 million in stolen goods.
At least $12,000 in jewelry was taken from one of the Scottsdale homes and an additional $15,000 from the Paradise Valley home, including a 30-carat yellow sapphire ring set in a 14-karat gold band.
Scottsdale police Sgt. Eric Rasmussen, head of burglary investigations, said officers missed the thief at one home by roughly 30 minutes.
Laitsch, who with Rasmussen is part of a multijurisdictional task force hunting the rock burglar, said all the homes had alarms, but that only one alarm was triggered during the burglaries that occurred between Nov. 22 and Nov. 30.
The reason? The other alarms were not set or not equipped with sensors to detect a rock thrown through a window of the master bath or master bedroom, the burglar's mode of entry, Laitsch said.
At least two of the homes were in gated communities, but gates have never been a detriment to the thief.
All but one house had newspapers outside — a flag that no one is home, Laitsch said.
“It could be one Saturday paper that has sat there all day and all Saturday night,” he said.
Before Thanksgiving 2002, typically half the burglar's victims were Paradise Valley residents, including Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Steve Finley.
The burglaries stopped after the the town initiated a $15,000 publicity campaign, including fliers on how to avoid becoming a victim, and repeated surveillance efforts. The thief, who stays in the homes about 10 minutes, has barely eluded capture on several occasions, police said.
Investigators are certain the break-ins are not the work of a look-alike.
“We may not know who this guy is, but we certainly know how he operates,” said Laitsch, task force spokesman. “It would be hard to copycat this guy without some inside information (on how he operates).”
The burglar hits homes of $750,000 value or more on large lots bordering green areas, such as a golf course, Laitsch said.