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Published: 12/31/2012

Area church break-ins subside; intruder still sought

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A surveillance camera catches this man robbing a church in Lenawee County. Tips in various Michigan and Ohio church robberies are being pursued. A surveillance camera catches this man robbing a church in Lenawee County. Tips in various Michigan and Ohio church robberies are being pursued.
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Investigators from various law enforcement agencies in southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio continue to pursue tips with hopes of nabbing a thief — or thieves — targeting local churches.

A man in a similar hooded jacket is caught on a surveillance camera at a Lenawee County church. Authorities said cash was the target in most break-ins. A man in a similar hooded jacket is caught on a surveillance camera at a Lenawee County church. Authorities said cash was the target in most break-ins.
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The good news is that most areas have experienced a halt in the break-ins, which reached as many as 50 over a period of about eight months.

“We received several tips and are now investigating those tips. Some could be promising,” Lenawee County Detective Gary Ward said, noting that churches from Lansing down through southern Michigan and into Ohio had been hit. “Since we issued that … press release, we haven’t had one since.”

In early December, law enforcement agencies banded together to share details about the crimes. Since then, detectives at the agencies have pursued any tips.

At the time, authorities said that in nearly every break-in, the intruder used a tool to force open a window or a door. Once inside, the suspect targeted office areas where cash would be likely to be found.

Detective Ward said oftentimes the intruder bypassed valuable items, seeking out money.

Lenawee County recorded nearly a dozen break-ins, followed by Fulton, Washtenaw, and Monroe counties. Fulton County Sgt. Tracy Zuver said it looked as if the thieves “came through us and moved north.” The sergeant said his office is investigating several tips called in after the information was released.

“We really appreciate the public’s response and input,” he said.

In Erie County, a Bellevue man, 43, was arrested after allegedly being caught with gas cards reported stolen from a church. Gregory Leigh, Sr., is in custody in the Erie County jail in lieu of a $200,000 bond awaiting trial on three felony breaking-and-entering counts.

Detective Ward said other departments have made arrests but investigators don’t believe the accused are those they seek. Recent arrests involved crimes of opportunity, with perpetrators apparently walking into unlocked churches and taking items instead of ransacking in search of cash.

The Rev. Joel Walther, whose LaSalle, Mich., church was burglarized, said officials are considering extra lighting to ward off potential theives.

“Both my wife and I had churches that we serve broken into in that rash of burglaries,” he said of Zion United Methodist Church, which he serves, and Erie United Methodist Church in Erie, where his wife, the Reverend Megan, serves.

“The greatest security measure for all churches is to not keep cash on hand. That’s what these criminals seem to be looking for,” he added. “And in both of our cases, in both of the churches we serve, they weren’t able to find much except jars of change.”

Contact Erica Blake at eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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