Outlet burglaries blamed on travelers|[12/12/05]

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 12, 2005

Burglars who paid a weekend visit to Vicksburg Factory Outlets were likely traveling pros, leading Vicksburg police to follow up their investigation by contacting departments elsewhere in the country where similar crimes have occurred.

&#8220There are probably multiple suspects” who participated in the burglary, said Capt. Mark Culbertson, chief of detectives.

Police believe the team waited until late Friday night or early Saturday morning when no one was around and broke through the ceiling of one store, then broke through walls into others. Alarms were disabled as a preliminary step.

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While initial estimates of what was taken may have been high, inventories were still being conducted.

Five stores were entered at the South Frontage Road complex, which is visible from Interstate 20. The burglaries were discovered as employees arrived minutes before opening stores for the day.

At least several thousand dollars in merchandise was reported missing, police have said. Thieves entered through the roof of the Reebok store. Police said today that store had about 80 pairs of shoes missing, down from the estimate of 300 or more pairs an assistant manager provided Saturday. A person at the store today said the initial estimate was wrong, but would not say whether it was high or low.

From the Reebok store, burglars knocked holes in a series of walls to enter Bible Factory, OshKosh B’Gosh and Paper Factory stores. A safe at Factory Brand Shoes was also cut, police said.

Bank deposits of about $5,000 were missing from OshKosh B’Gosh and Factory Brand Shoes, police said.

Culbertson said one other place where a factory-outlet store has been entered through a hole cut into its roof and burglarized is the Timberland Factory Outlet store in Kittery, Maine. There a 3-foot-by-1-foot hole was found in the roof, layers of metal and rock had been cut through, and about $100,000 in merchandise was missing on Sept. 11, 2001, a Portsmouth (Maine) Herald newspaper report said.

Burglars like the ones who hit both places often specialize in one type of preferred target, Culbertson said.

&#8220They’ve got an outlet to sell the items they’re stealing, generally,” Culbertson said.

Police in Kittery believed the 2001 burglary there was committed by a team of three to five people, the Herald reported.

Two white vans stolen from a Ford dealership in Portsmouth were used in the Timberland burglary, which occurred late on a Sunday night or early on a Monday morning.

In addition to gathering evidence at the scene, police were asking for anyone who may have seen anything unusual or suspicious to contact them.

Vicksburg Factory Outlets was created by local developers in May 1995 and Reebok became a tenant in 2001.

The developers won a Governors Award for small business development for 2003.

Earlier this year, owners announced sale of the center’s managing interest to a California outlet developer, Craig Realty Group of Newport Beach.