Former officer thwarts downtown burglary

Published 5:39 pm Monday, April 28, 2014

Sometime on Saturday night to Sunday morning, a burglar cut through several layers into the bathroom shared by the law office of Dan Crumpler and coin shop of Warren Meyers. --STEPHEN H. COWLES/TIDEWATER NEWS

Sometime on Saturday night to Sunday morning, a burglar cut through several layers into the bathroom shared by the law office of Dan Crumpler and coin shop of Warren Meyers. –STEPHEN H. COWLES/TIDEWATER NEWS

Updated to reflect print edition story

FRANKLIN—When Dan Crumpler III arrived at his law office on Sunday, he soon discovered the makings of a burglary.

“I came in at 3:30 p.m. and when I came to the bathroom door — Warren [Myers of Liberty Coins] and I share the bathroom — I couldn’t get in,” said Crumpler. He added that there’s a sliding lock on the inside. Calls to a secretary he knew had been in earlier and Myers confirmed neither was in any way responsible.

Puzzled, Crumpler called the Franklin Police Department. After an officer had to kick in the door, the two saw insulation and debris on the floor and a hole in the ceiling. Somebody had cut through 10 layers from roof to ceiling to get inside.

James W. Thomas III

James W. Thomas III

That somebody later turned out to reportedly be James William Thomas III of the 28000 block of Little Texas Road in Branchville. More on him later.

The suspect then evidently went through another door in the bathroom that connects to Liberty Coins next door. Down the hall, another door was ruined in order to reach the coins. Myers said he figures that the bathroom — which is an unsecured area — was entered so as to bypass the motion detector and alarms on his side. In addition to a few hundred dollars of property damage, Myers estimated that about $600 to $700 in coins was taken and has yet to be recovered.

Crumpler said investigators who came on the scene found cinderblocks, a stepladder and a make-shift ladder used to gain access to the roof.

He praised those who responded and said they handled the matter in a great way.

“We have a great group of police officers in Franklin and Southampton,” he later said.

“They’re going to be back,” Crumpler said he was told. With that, he asked if someone could be put in the building to lay in wait for the person or persons yet unknown.

After reportedly checking the answer was no, but increased patrols downtown would be assigned.

Even a willingness to pay an off-duty was officer was declined.

Crumpler said he next contacted the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office and made the same offer, which was initially accepted and arranged. The offer was rescinded not much later. Apparently the Southampton office notified Franklin’s department, and was told they have it covered, said Crumpler.

Asked for comment on the case, Det. Scott Griffith of the Southampton Sheriff’s Office replied in an email, “We are going to refer all questions on this matter to the Franklin Police Department.”

“The problem is, they don’t have it covered,” Crumpler said. “What do I do now? I’m trying do the responsible thing and get someone experienced. I felt I was left hanging by having to provide my own security.”

That was when he turned to his friend, Ronnie McClenny, a retired Franklin police officer who said he has occasionally managed some of Crumpler’s property.

After explaining the situation, McClenny asked, “What’s the job paying?”

“Thirty-five dollars an hour.”

Accepting that amount, he arrived at 9 p.m. and stayed in Crumpler’s side. Both men said each had notified the Franklin Police Department that McClenny was on guard.

“The lights were off, and at 10:53 p.m. I heard the suspect walk by the hole,” he said. “I was over in Dan’s office. I called 911 and said he [the suspect] is on top. The next thing I know, an officer said all the buildings are surrounded.”

The police got to the suspect and called him down. He was wearing a camouflage suit, and carrying a camo duffle bag and wire cutters, McClenny said he was later told.

“I didn’t stay the rest of the evening. I felt like my job was done.”

Also reportedly found on the suspect was a ripsaw, a long blade mostly used in demolition.

Crumpler, Myers and McClenny all agreed that it had to have made quite a lot of noise.

“It probably took two days,” said Myers. “I imagine it took quite awhile. But nobody ever heard anything. It took a lot of work and effort. He [the suspect] was lucky he didn’t electrocute himself.”

Crumpler said on Tuesday afternoon that he thinks that once the burglar got through to where he could see wires, he was able to get around them.

Thomas, 29, was taken into custody without a struggle. He’s being held without bond in Western Tidewater Regional Jail. The suspect is so far charged by Franklin Police with attempted breaking and entering, possessing burglar tools and trespassing.

Further, Williams has been charged by the Southampton Sheriff’s Office for multiple counts of burglary and larceny in connection with at least four known crimes from Aug. 30, 2013, to Feb. 27. Search warrants discovered stolen property at the suspect’s residence.

On Monday, a phone call from Franklin Police Chief Phil Hardison to “check in” with Crumpler gave the attorney an opportunity to vent.

“It’s odd that you check in now. The last time you didn’t call,” he said he told the chief.

Crumpler was referring to another break-in that took place last fall when his office was torn apart.

“Franklin Police should have gotten all the credit,” he said he told Hardison about the weekend incident. Further, the attorney said the chief was probably more bothered by the fact that a former Franklin officer stood guard and called in the break-in.

“I can’t have people everywhere at once,” Hardison reportedly told Crumpler.

The chief responded to a request from The Tidewater News for comment on the incident.

In a phone conversation on Monday, Hardison said, “It was unfortunate that he [Crumpler] and Mr. Myers were the victims of a burglary. His request was that he hire a single off-duty officer to stay overnight. We’re sensitive that both have security concerns.

“We posted additional officers downtown. Four were assigned and one that was detailed on foot in downtown area. We just do not assign off-duty people work. They’re not at the liberty to freelance. This is complicated by a number of factors, such as safety and liability. It’s not a practice to freelance.”

Coverage for downtown events involving several people are not so much an exception as a different circumstance, he added.

Hardison would not discuss why Southampton law enforcement cancelled its earlier offer to allow one of its officers to be hired, and said that was “not relevant to the event.”

Asked for a response to Crumpler’s statement that he left the attorney vulnerable, the chief said, “I understand his feelings. But it’s important for homeowners or property owners to understand that we all have a certain responsibility to make targets more difficult.

“We do everything we can reasonably do so that citizens’ property is safe and secure in the evening or when they’re working and not at home. We still have the responsibility for coverage of rest of city.

“In the end what really matters is the suspect was successfully identified and arrested and brought before courts,” Hardison continued. “We look to the community cooperatively to help us help them.”