MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports authorities figured out the bandits' technique. And if you haven't heard about it yet, maybe you should.
WADE GOODWYN: It started in late July. And when the bump-key bandits hit the suburb of Euless, population 50,000, Detective Scott Peterson knew something different was happening. Dozens of apartments were being robbed exactly the same way, all on the same day.
SCOTT PETERSON: And they were showing no forced entry. The residents would come home and find their front door was unlocked. It was closed but the door was unlocked. A couple of them, they put their key in and noticed the locking mechanism was messed up.
GOODWYN: If one person comes home to an unlocked and robbed apartment, he or she might think, maybe I forgot to lock it this morning. I thought I did. But when many residents in the same building are standing there, mouths opened, their first thought was crooked maintenance man. But in a very helpful coincidence, Detective Peterson's wife managed one of the apartment complexes that was robbed.
PETERSON: So I'm very familiar with the apartment complexes, who their vendors are that come on the property, how they give out keys, and personally know the maintenance person of all this property, and felt very confident that they had nothing to do with this.
GOODWYN: These were not maintenance men gone astray. These guys were pros. They were employing a technique and the kind of key that locksmiths sometimes use called a bump key. These bump-key bandits were fleecing the earnest citizens of North Texas of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stuff.
PETERSON: Some laptops, two, three thousand dollars apiece, and you got to figure if they're committing anywhere from 10 to 20 burglaries a day.
GOODWYN: But the burglars were not perfect. For example, some of those stolen laptops began giving off wireless signals from Puerto Rico, so that was a clue. But the really big break in the case came when a sharp-eyed assistant manager in one of the complexes saw two men, got suspicious and wrote down the license plate number. The car turned out to be a rental from DFW Airport. Perhaps, the robbers did not realize it, but airports are no longer the best staging area for major felonies.
PETERSON: We've got video of them flying here and not checking any baggage, and then leaving, drop off the rental car and get on the plane with lots of luggage.
GOODWYN: For the lead detective, Scott Peterson, of the Euless Police Department, it was the kind of investigation that comes along maybe once in a lifetime if ever.
PETERSON: This is something that you probably may never run across. To be able to actually put something like this together, find the guys you're looking for and be able to follow them and watch them commit the burglaries and be able to take them down, it was a good feeling. Yeah.
GOODWYN: So what about the bump keys that the suspects used to allegedly break in to all these apartments? Well, the first thing you should know is that these keys are not illegal.
RYAN SHIRE: It's no secret. You know, anyone who's been in the industry knows about it.
GOODWYN: One the job, Shire mostly picks locks, but he'll use a bump key to get pass the lock if he has to.
SHIRE: We're working with the (unintelligible). And I'm not going to tell you the numbers that we use, but I will cut the deepest cuts available by the manufacturer into the key.
GOODWYN: The machine makes the critical cuts. Afterwards, Shire uses a file to make the final cuts, but we won't reveal exactly how he completes the key.
(SOUNDBITE OF NOISE)
SHIRE: There's a bump key.
GOODWYN: Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.
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