Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
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Graveyard burglar still elusive
Break-ins have stopped, police say

The so-called "Graveyard Burglar," who for months haunted the Old Town neighborhood surrounding the city cemetery by entering homes even if people were inside sleeping, continues to escape arrest.

Locals with a stake in the case on Tuesday talked about putting together a private cash reward, in addition to the Crimestoppers program that offers a reward for information that leads to an arrest. The group plans to host a potluck picnic possibly Sunday.

But the rest of the case remains in limbo.

Key West police haven't identified a suspect by name in connection with the crime spree that locals and burglary victims say has plagued them for well over a year.

But the part of the city that includes the cemetery hasn't logged a single burglary of the "Graveyard" intruder type since Dec. 15 after detectives and patrol officers launched extra patrols, police spokeswoman Alyson Crean said Tuesday.

"It's frustrating," Crean said. "If we had a suspect, at least we could be going after somebody. As detectives explained, they have talked to so many people, and gone through the 'usual suspects.'"

Police have investigated every possible lead so far, she said.

"There are criminals on this island who have been arrested multiple times, and they've been able to account for them," she said of the work by officers. "They have really exhausted a lot of different avenues to try to find the person or persons."

Between Sept. 15 and Dec. 15, the neighborhood that is part of "Beat 3" in police geography jargon racked up 40 burglaries, Chief Donie Lee told about 125 people who gathered last week at a community meeting to talk about the crime spree. Those burglaries included a Dec. 11 incident in which a woman awoke on her bed to find her smart phone and Kindle e-reader had disappeared. She told police she had definitely locked her doors.

Lee recently announced his department is doing everything it can to solve the case. He advised locals to lock their doors, add outdoor lighting, and call 911 if they awake to find an intruder pawing through their belongings.

The "Graveyard Burglar" could be a man or a woman, or the work of two or more people, He advised the crowd that they have the right to defend themselves, but urged everyone not to confront an intruder unless cornered.

Over the weekend, a few social media posts mistakenly connected the routine arrest of a man sleeping in the cemetery to the "Graveyard Burglar" case. Crean posted Friday on a "Cemetery Thief" Facebook page that James Edward McGruder, 32, was arrested for trespassing Thursday night after officers said he crawled under the locked gate to enter.

It turned out that McGruder had an outstanding warrant for dealing in stolen property and pawn fraud, a felony charge.

"McGruder said he was a medium and was there just to speak to dead people," the posting said.

A blogger soon announced that police were asking residents to check out the mug shot of McGruder as a likely "Graveyard Burglar" suspect -- despite the fact that police had said nothing of the kind.

Detectives checked out McGruder since he was facing allegations of pawn theft, which is often a burglary-related type of crime, said Crean, but no evidence links him to the Old Town break-ins.

"We had the community meeting where people asked us to let them know anything that was going on in that beat area that's even remotely related to burglary," said Crean. "We just wanted to let the cemetery community know that this had happened."

McGruder doesn't look like either of the two suspects police have confirmed via security footage: a man in a corner store, and a black and white image of an intruder as he was walking around a Galveston Lane house.

"We just wanted to let the cemetery community know that this had happened," Crean said. "He's(McGruder) a trespass (case)."

Judi Bradford, an Old Town resident, created the Facebook page about the cemetery break-ins because residents had asked for more information on neighborhood arrests.

"It demonstrates they are hearing the plea to keep us in the loop," she said. "It gives us a chance to rule it out."

Not everyone agreed.

"By posting this on FB, the KWPD obviously knew that people would jump to conclusions and connect him to a completely separate crime. As a citizen of Key West, I am very disappointed in my police department," Nicole Weaver posted Saturday.

A couple of Key West residents posted that McGruder could lose his job over such exposure on the police's Facebook page, and remains innocent until proven guilty of any crime.

McGruder, who gave a Marathon address, posted $5,500 bail and was released Friday evening from the Stock Island jail, sheriff's office records said.

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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