AUTHORITIES suspect same burglars claimed jewelry across states

Wednesday, May 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) _ Authorities think the same people may be responsible for jewelry stolen from a Fayetteville mall and shopping centers in four other states.

The Northwest Arkansas Mall in Fayetteville is the most recent to be hit. Burglars broke in about 4 a.m. Sunday and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of jewelry from Gordon's Jewelers and Blakeman's Fine Jewelry, Fayetteville police Lt. Greg Tabor said. Tabor said the burglary is one of the biggest jewelry heists in city history.

Fayetteville detectives had few leads Tuesday but were busy connecting the burglaries with similar ones at mall jewelry stores in Overland Park, Kan., Columbia, Mo., Dyersburg, Tenn. and Oklahoma City.

``There are enough similarities to each case that there's little question in my mind that they are either being run by an organization or it's the same individuals doing the same crime,'' said Columbia police Detective Jeff Nichols.

Burglars in Fayetteville broke through a glass entrance door on the northeast side of the mall and then broke glass displays in the stores to obtain the jewelry. Police said hammers may have been used.

Tabor said police believe a blue 1988 Chevrolet Impala stolen late Friday from a Ramada Inn may have been used by the mall burglars.

Columbia, Mo., authorities turned their case over to the FBI, and FBI spokesman Jeff Lanza said the agency is looking at the possibility that some of the crimes are connected.

Remarkable similarities exist between the burglaries in Fayetteville, Dyersburg and Columbia, Dyersburg investigator Deborah Lowrance said.

``It would be hard to believe there's not some connection,'' she said.

Burglars at Dyersburg broke into the Dyersburg Mall about 6:15 a.m. on Jan. 25, using hammers to knock out glass and steal thousands of dollars worth of jewelry from Zales Jewelers and Freidman's Jewelers. The hammers were recovered at the scene.

``It has to be several people, two or three at least,'' Lowrance said. ``Because of the way it was done and the quantity that was taken in a very short period of time, it had to be several people.''

The Columbia Mall heist at a Gordon's Jewelers occurred about 3 a.m. Sept. 6, Nichols said. Although hammers were not recovered, Nichols said marks in wooden cabinets make it clear that such tools was used. A stolen car was still running near the scene when police arrived.

Also last September, Bailey, Banks & Biddle jewelry store in Overland Park was burglarized, and there was a March 2000 burglary of a Gordon's Jewelers in Oklahoma City. Lowrance said both crimes may be linked to the other burglaries.