Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Wide net, good luck were key ingredients in catching University-area burglar

A lucky break after nearly a year looking for the man burglarizing University-area homes finally gave police the name of the person they were seeking.

They captured him barely a few hours later on South High Street, where he was preparing to strike again.

The break began when a person in Indiana bought an Apple laptop from a secondhand computer store, says Denver police Det. Jeff Hart, lead investigator in the case. Where most burglars sell their loot locally, the DU-area burglar sent the goods he stole to a confederate out of state.

This article is part of a three-part series of stories to appear of DU Today from Sept. 20–22. Check DU Today for each day’s installments.

Story 1: Lessons from neighborhood burglaries are still challenge a year later

Story 2: Wide net, good luck were key ingredients in catching University-area burglar

Story 3: Campus safety officials preach security and awareness in wake of burglaries

“He would do the burglary, go to work, package it and ship it off right away,” Hart says. “He was very efficient.”

The Apple laptop that surfaced was stolen from a home in the DU area on Jan. 5, 2009. It was taken during a brazen confrontation with homeowners in which the burglar awakened his victims and threatened to shoot them if they didn’t do what he said. That case elevated the crimes to robberies — taking something by force — and the investigation was led by the Denver Police Department’s elite robbery unit.

The person who unknowingly bought the stolen laptop, Hart says, used it for a few months, then called an Apple maintenance center to ask about replacing the battery.

“The serial number had been previously checked and nothing came up, but I decided to check it again,” Hart says.

It wasn’t a long call. He only had about a dozen serial numbers to work with because most of the burglary victims had not registered their machines or recorded identifying numbers. But luck was on Hart’s side; there was a match. The laptop in Indiana was still registered to a victim in Colorado.

Hart alerted local authorities and FBI agents. Search warrants were obtained and the caller identified. The person directed authorities to the computer store and the investigation quickly looped back to Denver.

“The owner of the secondhand store would erase [laptops] and bypass their passwords, then either resell them in Indiana and send some profits back or ship them back to [Colorado],” Hart says. 

Breaking the case

Police caught a break in two ways, Hart speculates. Had the buyer of the laptop called the owner of the computer store rather than phoning Apple, the shopkeeper might have steered him away by providing a battery himself. Also, if the buyer had known the computer was stolen would he have bought a generic battery somewhere else or looked for an Apple product on the sly?

Hart is grateful neither occurred. The buyer wanted an Apple battery and phoned Apple. Brand loyalty saved the day.

“I had contacts with the FBI,” Hart says, “so when we sent a lead out to them, they dropped what they were doing and jumped on it.”

burglar's hiding spot

Serial burglar Tarius Simes was apprehended near this alley off High Street on Sept. 18, 2009. Photo: Richard Chapman

Getting warrants seemed agonizingly slow, Hart says, but the legalities had to be respected. When they were, Apple was “extremely helpful, very professional” and quick to provide the information requested.

New details trickled in, and by the evening of Sept. 18, 2009, Hart thought he had his man. The burglar — sought for nearly a year by a small army of investigators — was Tarius Laquan Simes, a 33-year-old Indiana native with three felony convictions. Simes worked full time and lived in Aurora, Colo., with his wife and three children.

The capture, Hart says, unfolded like this:

Near midnight on Sept. 18, Hart becomes confident the burglar is Simes. He sounds the alert, and police hurry to Simes’ home in Aurora. His truck is gone. They set up surveillance while other officers pour into the DU area. About 3 a.m. they find Simes’ vehicle parked in the neighborhood. It’s empty. Detectives worry that their suspect is checking for witnesses before burglarizing a home. A plainclothes detective is checking out the truck just as Simes walks toward it. The officer identifies himself and orders Simes to stop. Simes runs into the night. Within minutes the neighborhood is swarming with police and the area is locked down. A careful search gets under way and a few hours later Simes is arrested.

“Everything fell into place,” Hart says. “We had the manpower ready and were able to go. But if I hadn’t told the FBI in Indiana that I needed an answer as soon as possible. If we hadn’t rushed things along, there’s a chance he would have committed [a burglary] that night.” 

Understanding the criminal

With Simes in custody, Hart had a chance to measure the man against the guesswork — the false idea, for example, that he was targeting DU athletes — and a few surprises jumped out.

“It surprised me that he had a full-time job,” Hart says. “It surprised me that he was not smart enough to change his MO. It surprised me that even when media attention became heightened, he didn’t stop.”

Simes

Simes. Photo: Denver Police

That Simes shipped stolen goods out of state was also unusual, Hart adds, as was his concentration on a single area and the escalation of his crime to bold confrontation with victims.

“Any of us could be a victim of a serial burglar in that he wakes up one morning and decides to go to Littleton and burglarize someone there, tomorrow he does one in Aurora, the next day in Westminster. Tarius was unique in that he stuck to a centralized location.”

He did that, Hart says, because there was a lot to steal. “It’s a target-rich environment.”

Prosecutor Rebekah Melnick (JD ’04) says Simes was seduced by efficiency. “Because it was a college area he was getting more stuff than somebody who breaks into three houses in a day. He would just have to do one.” Criminals look for opportunity, she points out, and the opportunity near DU hasn’t changed just because Simes is in prison under sentence of 60 years.

Residents have to lock their doors and windows, turn lights on, keep an eye on their belongings, and keep track of who belongs in the neighborhood and who doesn’t.

“We can’t go from door to door in the residence halls and make sure they’re all locked,” says Don Enloe, head of Campus Safety. “We can’t go up and down the streets off campus and make sure all the windows are secure. You have to take it upon yourself. And that’s a difficult lesson to teach young adults.”

That’s especially true if the lessons of the experience are heeded. “Everybody reads the headlines that say the DU Burglar’s in jail and say ‘OK, we can relax,’” Enloe says. “No, because ‘DU Burglar the Sequel’ is coming right behind. All in all, this is a very safe place, but you still have to be responsible for yourself.”

Ed. Note: Denver City Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz praised this series in a recent committee meeting.


One Comment

  1. As a loyal Mac user, this article triggered me to write down all my serial numbers and file in a safe place. Back-up is important, not just for computers, but for phones, flat screens and camera too.

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