The path to the jewelry department in the Lord & Taylor store in North Bethesda goes by the designer handbag section. Dozens of styles — Calvin Klein, Kate Spade and others — are displayed in a variety of sizes.
Snagging just one of them, it now seems, might have worked out better for a late-night burglar.
Instead of grabbing a handbag for his heist, according to court records in Montgomery County, the burglar stuffed 250 pieces of jewelry into a black trash bag before hustling out. What he didn't realize was that at some point during his escape after the 4 a.m. break-in on Feb. 16, the bag tore — leaving a trail of stolen jewelry that ultimately led to the arrest of a 35-year-old suspect.
"It can be a fine line between committing and getting away with a crime," said Stephen Chaikin, a Montgomery County defense attorney and former county prosecutor.
Police arrested Assaloun Luangsay of Silver Spring. They say the investigation into the Lord & Taylor case helped them solve an earlier break-in at a nearby J.C. Penney store. Together, police allege, Luangsay stole more than $300,000 worth of jewelry in the store break-ins.
Facing a November trial in both cases, Luangsay is being held in the Montgomery County jail on no-bond status. His attorney could not be reached for comment.
A native of Laos, Luangsay has lived in the Washington region for about two decades and worked as an auto-body repairman, court files show. He has previous court cases, including an immigration case, according to court records. Federal agents recently lodged a detainer against him — an indication that they believe he eventually could be deported.
It was the J.C. Penney store, in downtown Wheaton, that was burglarized first, on the morning of May 21, 2016.
About 3:15 a.m., according to court records, someone used a rock to smash two glass doors at the store. A hood and a baseball cap hid the intruder's face. One of the burglar's first moves at Penney's was acquiring a sturdy bag.
"The suspect grabbed a bag and metal shelf bracket from the adjacent handbag department and walked directly towards the fine jewelry department," detectives wrote in court documents.
Using the shelf bracket, the burglar broke display cases, grabbed 166 rings, bracelets, necklaces and earrings, and carried them out in the handbag, police alleged.
In the process, he tripped off a motion sensor alarm.
But as it happened, the store had been having false sensor readings, and a Penney representative didn't think it was worth having the police respond, according to court records. It took several hours to detect the break-in.
Detectives say they made progress on the case, but they didn't bring charges.
They got a break this year, though, after someone broke in to the Lord & Taylor in North Bethesda, three miles away. In that case, police were notified of an alarm and got to the store.
Interior surveillance video showed a person wearing a black mask, sunglasses and a black knit cap smash into the store with a metal pipe, head to the jewelry section, break 10 display cases and place jewelry into "what appears to be a black trash bag," detectives wrote in court filings.
Outside the store, police found a trail of jewelry leading from Lord & Taylor and across the many lanes of Rockville Pike. The trail "ended abruptly" beside a parking garage, according to court records.
Detectives got surveillance video from the garage in hopes it might reveal the burglar after he removed his mask. According to police accounts, that's just what happened; police say the video showed a clear image of Luangsay climbing into a vehicle and driving off.
Detectives also were able to tie pawnshop records, showing the sale of jewelry, to Luangsay and at least one relative, according to court records.
Luangsay is due in court next on Sept. 13. His trial in both cases is scheduled to start Nov. 7.