The Charles County Sheriff's Office is investigating a spate of 26 home burglaries in the past two months in four northern county neighborhoods and an auto theft ring in which nine cars were stolen off the lot of a Waldorf dealer.
No one has been hurt in any of the daytime thefts. Deputies on beefed-up patrols along Billingsley and Bensville roads, where a cluster of burglaries has occurred, nearly caught two people Thursday after a resident saw that someone had broken into her home.
Sheriff Frederick E. Davis said deputies arrived within minutes of the homeowner's 911 call from a neighbor's house and chased the fleeing duo into the woods in the rural Bensville neighborhood, where eight burglaries have taken place this month, four on July 16. The two eventually eluded deputies in the tangle of woods, Davis said.
"We cordoned off the area, just never came up with them," Davis said, adding that he is optimistic that the unregistered Ford Taurus believed abandoned by the two might have evidence, such as fingerprints, that will lead authorities to the burglars.
"We have the car. We don't have them. But it gives us a lead," Davis said.
The sheriff said he cannot rule out that the duo may be the same people who have targeted three neighborhoods in the St. Charles area, where 18 homes have been plundered since the end of May.
Davis called the burglary spike alarming but not uncommon. He said crime in the county continues to decline.
"We're just not used to this amount of burglaries," he said. "But you're always going to get these spikes."
All the burglaries have been committed between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays when residents were not home. Money, jewelry, home electronics, video games and firearms have been taken, authorities said.
In all the burglaries, the intruders forced their way into the homes. Detectives say the burglars are traveling in vehicles capable of hauling a large number of items.
Before raiding a home, the burglars may knock on a door to determine if anyone is home. Residents who answer the knocks maybe asked for directions or other information.
These should be red flags, Davis said, and should prompt residents to call the sheriff's office immediately. "Call it in," Davis said. "It only takes us a short time to check it out, and it might be the break we need."
The sheriff's office can be reached at 301-932-2222.
Jerry Ballengee said his daughter arrived at their home in the 8400 block of Billingsley Road on June 28 to find it ransacked.
When he arrived a short time later, Ballengee said, he discovered that every room in the house had been looted.
Thieves, who broke in through a back patio door, stole about $13,000 worth of items, including camera equipment, electronics, jewelry, coins, two saxophones and even his son's Boy Scout lapel pins.
"Any room that had a door on it, they opened it up and went though pretty much everything," Ballengee said. "You feel violated. It's like nothing is safe anymore. We're still hurt by it."
Authorities are urging residents to take common-sense precautions, including locking doors and watching for unusual activity. Residents are also encouraged to schedule a free home security survey by the sheriff's Crime Prevention Unit, 301-932-3080.
Meanwhile, the sheriff's office is continuing the investigation into a string of vehicle thefts at Ken Dixon Automotive, 2298 Crain Hwy., Waldorf.
The first vehicle was reported stolen April 3. Since then, eight more have disappeared.
Of those nine -- mostly Cadillacs -- five have been recovered, and authorities believe the others have been sold with missing or altered vehicle identification numbers.
Dan Tayman, general manager of Ken Dixon, said the cars were stolen from the lot after the vehicles' keys vanished from the dealership.
"I wish I knew exactly how it was happening," Tayman said. "This is a pretty well-organized group."
The last car was stolen about three weeks ago, and new security measures have been implemented since. "It seems to have slowed it down," Tayman said.
On May 6, detectives were investigating the thefts when they saw two of the stolen vehicles on Fairfield Drive in District Heights in Prince George's County.
Stanely Askew, 26, of District Heights and Andre Edwards, 29, of Capitol Heights were arrested and charged with auto theft and removal of serial numbers.
Subsequent investigation led to the recovery of 18 other vehicles from Maryland, Virginia and the District, though that number could climb, Davis said.
"When you get into a ring like that that's stealing cars, it's hard to say how many they've really stolen over the course of the last six months, eight months," Davis said.
Anyone with any additional information about the thefts or who has purchased a vehicle from the suspects is asked to call 301-609-6502.
A spate of robberies in Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties also appears to have spilled into Charles County last week with the armed robbery Wednesday of a Wendy's restaurant on Crain Highway on the northern edge of Waldorf, Davis said.
Authorities say that after three men finished their meals and waited for other customers to leave, two of them brandished handguns and ordered all the employees to lie on the floor.
The men demanded money from the manager, who complied.
All three robbers, in their twenties, fled in a what authorities believe was a blue older-model car. Davis said the robbery is probably linked to several similar ones in Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties.
The restaurant is less than a half-mile from the Prince George's County line.