Dennis McLaughlin remembers waking up the morning of June 26 in his Manassas home and quickly realizing that something was awry. As he headed downstairs to get his newspaper and make coffee, he looked into his office and saw his lamp lying on the desk and a big empty space where his $1,300 Dell computer should have been.
Going into the kitchen, he saw the window screen flapping in the breeze.
"The screen had been cut into an L-shape. I went, 'Oh my God,' " said McLaughlin, 61, a manufacturers representative for plumbing and construction products. The burglars "climbed on our deck and scrambled into the kitchen window."
What McLaughlin didn't know was that he was just one of many local victims of a team of burglars in the past few months. Last week, four Manassas men suspected of stealing about $50,000 worth of cars, cell phones, cash and other valuables from more than 30 homes in Manassas, Vienna and Prince William County were arrested by Manassas city police.
The suspects are: David Lambert, 25, of the 9700 block of Clark Place; Keith Ferguson, 19, of the 9800 block of Maury Lane; Nathaniel McFadden, 27, of the 9700 block of Grant Avenue; and Bradley Tibbs, 20, of the 9200 block of Hood Road. Lambert was charged with one count of grand larceny. The others were charged with multiple counts of grand larceny and burglary. They are being held without bond at the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center.
Police are still looking for two alleged accomplices who have been charged in warrants with burglary and grand larceny: James Corum Jr., 18, and Bernard W. Hawkins III, 20, both of the 9300 block of Taney Road in Manassas.
Detectives "have literally worked around the clock," Manassas Chief John J. Skinner said Thursday at a news conference. "This was a very, very active burglary ring . . . . The investigation is not by any means over."
In Manassas, which has a population of about 38,000, the number of major crimes such as murder, rape and burglary dropped by 9 percent, from 1,423 in 2000 to 1,293 in 2003, according to police statistics. Burglary is among the fastest-declining types of crime in the city, with the number of cases dropping from 140 in 2000 to 105 in 2003.
Police said the men began their spree in March and ramped up their exploits in June, burglarizing up to six homes a night in the hours before dawn. The suspects allegedly sneaked inside through unlocked front doors or windows but did not hurt anyone physically. Police said they are not sure whether the suspects were carrying weapons during the burglaries.
The burglars encountered residents only occasionally and sometimes abandoned their efforts, police said. In one instance, a resident heard a noise in the garage and saw two men fleeing from the home. In another, two men slipped through a window in a living room and woke up a person sleeping on a couch.
"He was startled. They were startled," Skinner said. Then, the resident "chased them for some distance" out of the house before giving up.
Police said the men obtained car keys inside the homes and stole six vehicles, including a 1999 Saab and 2004 Volvo, all of which were recovered.
Detectives said they closed in on the suspects when Tibbs and Lambert were found driving one of the stolen vehicles in Manassas on June 28. Evidence found in the vehicle led detectives to McFadden and Ferguson, the "prime suspects" in the cases. Lt. John D. Barnes of the Manassas city police declined to discuss the evidence found inside the vehicle Tibbs and Lambert were allegedly driving.
McLaughlin, the burglary victim, said he never heard any movements during the night his home was burglarized. He said detectives found lots of prints along the siding of his house.
"They got a palm print and foot prints on the siding of the window," he said. "We've lived here for 15 years and I can't tell you how many nights we've left our door open without locking it. Hell, they could have walked through the front door instead of scrambling through the kitchen window."