A Berkeley couple who lost a safe containing a $ 500,000 jewelry collection in a home burglary in August announced a hefty reward this week in hopes of inducing perpetrators to return the items. invaluable family.
The burglars used a handmade vintage red and white quilt to slide the 300 pound safe through the Berkeley Hills home and escape. Inside the safe, the couple had kept a valuable collection, including a $ 5 gold coin, set in a pendant, that had belonged to a great-great-grandfather, of family pocket watches dating back to three generations, diamond rings, South Sea pearls that had been a 30th anniversary gift, designer gold bracelets, a collection of arrowheads and much more.
âA lot of these things have memories: celebrations of occasions or trips we had taken,â said George Martin (a pseudonym). âThese are things we would be happy to pass on to our children and grandchildren. Now it’s all gone.
The Martins are just one of half a dozen older Berkeley Hills residents whose jewelry collections have been stolen in recent months, the couple said, speaking on condition of anonymity. On August 3, the day of the Martins’ break-in on Alvarado Road, the same team is believed to have struck two other houses nearby, including on Hillcrest Road and, across the Oakland border, on Chabolyn Terrace. These incidents followed similar reports in the neighborhood in May and July.
The Martins immediately reported the August 3 heist to Berkeley Police but, after learning that there were only two detectives dealing with all property crime reports in the town – with hundreds open cases – they decided to take matters into their own hands.
So they asked for recommendations for private investigators and received three, all for the same firm: Investigations in Immendorf, headquartered in San Francisco since 1966.
This week, the firm announced the $ 40,000 award to the media, promising “no questions asked” for the return of the stolen safe and its contents.
“We are not looking to continue,” CEO Jack Immendorf said on Wednesday. “We are just looking for the return of the merchandise.”
The company retained the services of San Francisco private investigator Bob Trent to respond to inquiries by telephone at 415-961-0980 with anyone with information about the case.
“He will organize a private rotation of the safe and will not notify the police,” the PI company said in a prepared statement. “All information is confidential.”
Immendorf said the company had already learned a lot about the burglars, including the vehicle they may have used (a white crossover SUV) and the very distinctive outfit one of them wore: a sweatshirt hoodie stating âPush It To The Limit,â dark skeleton-print gloves, âtrendy rippedâ jeans and Adidas Yeezy shoes, which sell for hundreds of dollars. Police also found blood and a burglary tool near broken glass at one of the crime scenes, Immendorf said.
âWe hope the burglar will want to exchange the stolen items for cash which would help him now,â he said. “It would mean a lot to us to get the family history back.”
Berkeley Police said on Thursday it was still an active investigation and therefore could not talk about leads. They approved Immendorf’s statement, however, and said they “were still looking to see what other cases might be linked to this one.”
The Martins have said part of their goal with this week’s announcement is to let neighbors know what’s going on. They try to fly over the neighborhood along the thieves’ flight path to let people know what happened.
They said they had already planned to beef up their own security system and hoped to encourage others to remember to lock their doors and consider installing their own cameras as well. A neighbor, who recently found an intruder in his secluded yard charging a tablet through an outdoor outlet, has already expressed interest, Martin said.
âThe technology is not expensive today,â he said. âThe more neighbors there are who can provide information, it helps the police a lot. “
Broken glass, an open door
On the day of the robbery, the Martins left the house shortly before noon to do some shopping. It was a Tuesday. They had lunch at Pleasant Hill. Then Martin dropped off his wife at home while he was shopping.
When he got home around 3:15 p.m., he used a door downstairs to enter. He immediately saw that there was a problem: the door was open and there was broken glass. His first concern was for his wife.
âI was afraid she was injured,â he said. When he confirmed that she was fine, he told her that someone had broken into. âShe ran upstairs. The whole safe was gone.
From security footage, the Martins learned that the first burglar – who wears a mask but appears to be male – arrived at 2:20 pm The footage shows him approaching the camera and turning the lens. In the background there is the loud sound of repeated banging and then the glass breaking before it cuts the camera wires.
The burglar climbed two flights of stairs and located the 300 pound steel and concrete safe where it had been hidden.
âIt wasn’t something where you just walk in and say, ‘Aha, there’s a safe.’ He found the safe in a very cramped place, “Martin said.” And it’s not a cinch to struggle with that to get it out. “
The Martins believe the burglar then called for backup once he completed the task ahead. Security footage shows an associate backing down the driveway in what could have been a white Chevrolet Equinox.
A neighbor noticed the unknown vehicle in the driveway but dismissed it, assuming it belonged to one of the Martins’ children.
It was a challenge for the burglars to move the safe: the initial efforts left deep gashes in the hardwood floor. The couple then ripped the vintage quilt, which had been handcrafted by Martin’s mother, from the couple’s bed. They wrapped it around the safe to hang it up or slide it through the house. They managed to get the safe down two flights of stairs and into the getaway car in 20-30 minutes.
“We will probably never see him again”
Martin said it was surreal to realize what happened while they were gone.
âAt first you’re just incredulous,â he said. âYou just didn’t think they would necessarily find it. Second, the physical effort it takes to get it out. We just thought it was highly unlikely, especially in the middle of the day. “
They immediately called the Berkeley Police Department. Officers came quickly but not right away: First they had to finish writing a similar burglary report just down the hill on Hillcrest, Martin said.
When the police arrived in Alvarado, they dusted off the fingerprints and did all they could. Within days, screening officers had turned the case over to detectives to dig deeper. But progress seemed slow and resources were limited, so the Martins turned to Immendorf for more legwork.
Martin said it took a while to come to terms with what had happened. His wife had spent a lifetime on the collection: she had approached jewelry as others could amass art.
âThe first thing you think about is total loss. But then you start to think about the individual pieces, âOh my God, your great-grandfather’s pocket watches,â his mother’s engagement ring, âhe said. âWe’ll probably never see him again. We hope – but we doubt.
After the heist, the Martins spoke with neighbors about what happened and also posted about it on NextDoor. Through these efforts, they were able to piece together a larger picture of recent burglaries in the region.
They found two main themes: whether jewelry was the main or the only type of property taken and the age of the victim: “We’re all between 70 and 80,” Martin said. âHe’s targeting a crowd of older people.
They said they thought it was important for the neighbors to know that there appeared to be a role model.
Visiting pawn shops and chatting with police and investigators, Martin said there appeared to be quite a few of these property crimes taking place in the Bay Area.
“There just aren’t a lot of deterrents right now,” he said. “Everything is sort of a state of flux.”
He also said the family tried to set the reward high enough that it was worth it.
âIt’s a sum of money that maybe someone could use to their advantage to maybe find a different way of life,â Martin said. âIt seems that he is a smart and enterprising person. They could certainly do much more productive things if they had the chance. “