Thefts so rampant they’re not reported
House with unpaid taxes and no city power may be linked to crime spree
According to Merle Flaming, owner of Flaming’s Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning at 113 S. 2nd St., thefts such as one July 9 at his business have been an ongoing problem.
Although police were summoned to investigate the July 9 theft of 10 gallons of gasoline and a toolbox filled with tools, together valued at $530, no arrests have been made.
Seven thefts on his property go back as far as 2014 and include $5,000 worth of copper.
Flaming installed security cameras after a break-in of a shop building.
Security camera footage revealed the gasoline theft, Flaming said.
“You can look at the film we have, and the cops have looked at the film,” Flaming said.
Still, no one has been fingered as a suspect.
Police chief Clinton Jeffrey said police had not been able to identify perpetrators seen on surveillance videos.
They were also unable to find a prowler reported in the same neighborhood two nights before the theft.
Other neighbors have had thefts they no longer bother to report.
An unknown amount of gasoline was stolen recently from a farm truck parked on Autumn Hanson’s property in the 400 block of Forest St. She didn’t bother to report it to police.
“It absolutely does no good,” she said. “Why waste your time to do it?”
Hanson called police once when a suspicious person was walking around her property. Police talked to the person and told her he was looking for place to “smoke pot” and was “harmless,” Hanson said.
Both Hanson and Flaming suspect recent thefts may be connected to people living nearby.
“It’s just getting old,” Hanson said.
A nearby residence, known to shelter people facing multiple drug charges, is powered by a generator.
Appraiser’s records list the property owner as Michael Loomis, who died a year ago. Property taxes for 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 have not been paid, according to the county’s online parcel records.
Asked how long the house had used a generator, Jeffrey referred the question to the city’s business office because electrical and water service are provided by the city.
City hall, however, declined to answer, citing “confidentiality.”
City administrator Roger Holter did not respond to an email asking who was responsible for Marion code enforcement and whether any actions were being taken about this residence.
Actions probably would have been taken in both Hillsboro and Peabody.
However, Marion municipal court clerk Jan Craft said Marion had no code specific to electricity or water service.
“The only thing we require is that they are connected to sewer,” Craft said.
Peabody police chief Bruce Burke is code enforcement officer there. Although state law doesn’t require gas or electrical service, Burke said, it does require water and sewer service.
When a Peabody resident has water service shut off, the city sends a letter and Burke goes to tell the resident they have 30 days to vacate the premises.
“I usually put a placard on the door and will talk to them,” he said.
Economic development director Anthony Roy is Hillsboro’s code enforcement officer, city administrator Matt Stiles said. Fire chief Ben Steketee and the police department also help with code enforcement.
“If someone doesn’t have power, what we can do is a welfare check,” Stiles said. “If it’s an inhabitable structure the city can work on that.”
Jeffrey said another nearby business, Marion Auto Supply, recently reported theft of a wheel from a U-Haul truck.
A total of 17 thefts have been reported so far in 2021, Jeffrey said. Last year, 29 were reported; 47 were reported in 2019.
“That doesn’t seem abnormally high, unless there are thefts that are not being reported,” he said.
Gasoline thefts are hard to solve because nobody can identify the gasoline in a tank, Jeffrey said.
When items that can be sold or pawned are stolen, Jeffrey suspects the case might be linked to drug users.
“When they steal items that can be resold, that’s what I suspect,” he said.
Thinking that and being able to prove it are different things, however.
Jeffrey was concerned to hear that some people didn’t bother to report thefts. If they are not reported, police can’t see patterns, he said.
He also wants people to report suspected drug activity.
“I encourage people to report if they see people coming and going in short intervals,” Jeffrey said. “We can call that person if they want, so it’s not obvious they are reporting it.”
Jeffrey said being able to solve a crime came down to police being able to develop probable cause to search for stolen items.
Flaming said he considered the thefts from his property “nuisance stuff.”
He believes mild punishments for theft are part of the problem.
“I hope that the system would take care of person-on-person crime,” Flaming said. “The petty ones aren’t any fun to deal with.”
If someone has an addiction, Flaming said, he or she must have to want to stop or no treatment will work.
“Our Bible tells us this darkness is all around us, and it’s not going to get better,” he said.