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In N.Va. Heists, Only the Finest Jewelry Nabbed; Lesser Karats Are Left Behind

Vindhya Kommineni of Fair Oaks lost her most expensive wedding saris, her wedding rings and a sterling dinner set with gold inlays. "They must be carrying something with them that tests for gold," she said of the thieves.
Vindhya Kommineni of Fair Oaks lost her most expensive wedding saris, her wedding rings and a sterling dinner set with gold inlays. "They must be carrying something with them that tests for gold," she said of the thieves. (Courtesy Of Vindhya Kommineni)

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By Mary Pat Flaherty
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 17, 2009

Burglars with a keen appreciation for gold have targeted Indian and South Asian homes in a months-long series of daytime break-ins in Northern Virginia.

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The burglars are discerning. They have taken 22-karat pieces but left behind sterling silver and well-crafted costume jewelry. They have sifted through floor-length gowns lovingly stored in closets and plucked every custom-made sari threaded with gold and worth thousands, disdaining saris worth only hundreds.

Officers in Fairfax and Loudoun counties, and the homeowners themselves, have yet to figure out how the burglars so successfully identify houses with large gold caches. Before they became victims, many of the families were strangers, and they and police have eliminated many of the obvious links: churches, temples, schools or even grocery stores where they could have been tracked.

"Most of us didn't even know each other," said Raman Kumar, whose home in Centreville was among the earliest break-in sites. "But here is the thing: If you know our customs, you know we carry a lot of gold."

Indian and South Asian communities traditionally pass collections of 22-karat gold from generation to generation. Gold has been selling at more than $1,000 an ounce, and some of the break-ins have netted more than $100,000 worth of jewelry, victims reported.

A break-in Thursday was the most recent of three cases in South Riding in Loudoun.

The spate also includes six Fair Oaks homes hit in two days last week in Fairfax and 16 burglaries between January and August in Reston, Centreville and Fair Oaks.

The unsolved crimes mirror a pattern of 93 burglaries in Houston, 37 in central Illinois and a handful outside St. Paul, Minn.

"There is targeting due to gold prices. That's how we are talking about it, rather than ethnicity," said Fairfax police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings.

Fairfax residents have grown increasingly angry and fearful about the crimes, complaining that police were slow to recognize the trend.

Kumar said he is among those frustrated. Burglars broke through a basement window at his home on Feb. 27 and stole heirloom gold jewelry. In a particularly insulting act, Kumar said, thieves stole a gold statue of Lakshmi, Hindu goddess of prosperity. The thieves passed over laptop computers and other electronics.

Kumar began tracking word of other burglaries and spotlighting them on local Indian Web sites and Facebook groups. He said the groups have not uncovered a shared activity that would enable a burglar to scout them.


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