Bandits could be responsible for 19 break-ins spanning 2 counties

Photo: WKRN
Photo: WKRN

GILES COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – Giles County law enforcement officers are on the lookout for the commercial burglars who may be responsible for an astounding 19 business break-ins that span from Giles County to Lawrence County.

The crime sprees began a few weeks ago and according to detectives, the thieves have made off with tens of thousands of dollars in cash and merchandise.

Investigators told News 2 the bandits aren’t your run of the mill burglars who smash their way in and get out quick.

Instead, Lt. Shane Hunter calls the bandits sophisticated and coordinated, and they have demonstrated an ability to bypass security systems.

Hunter said they even use walkie talkies to communicate with each other to avoid being caught.

News 2 spoke with Nick Patel on Thursday. He and his family own the West Market and Deli near Interstate 65.

On November 4, he and his family arrived to find their store ransacked, with the locks broken, cash drawers open and hundreds of cartons of cigarettes gone.

Surveillance video shows the masked men carrying a pry bar and that they used it to open locks and break open the coin slot of a machine.

“We were in shock,” Patel said. “When we came in, it was 2 a.m. We were really scared. The lights were still on and we thought someone was still in there.”

Store surveillance videos of the crime shows an armed Giles County deputy clearing the store, but the thieves are already long gone.

Patel said they knew what they were doing since they didn’t immediately go to the cash drawer – instead the bandits went to the back office where hundreds of cartons of cigarettes were kept.

Surveillance video shows the bandits loading garbage bags with cartons of cigarettes and tampering with the ATM.

“We came to the conclusion these guys might have been watching us for a while based on how they coordinated,” Patel said.

Detectives told News 2 the video also showed the masked man holding a walkie talkie to his mouth and communicating with his partner on the outside who is watching for cops.

“He is communicating with someone on the outside who can watch for him. Obviously, he is not an ordinary criminal,” Lt. Hunter said.

Patel also showed News 2 damage to the back of his store. That’s where authorities believe the thieves first tried to gain access and even disabled the store security system.

“This knocks out the security system where the company cannot receive a signal,” Patel said.

In all, the burglars get away with 350 cartons of cigarettes that are valued at $17,000. They also got away with $21,000 in lottery money.

Patel estimates with the stolen merchandise, money and damages, he and his family are out nearly $50,000.

Detectives told News 2 the same burglars are suspects in 19 other business break-ins in Giles and Lawrence counties and Pulaski.

“Heads up to all the other business owners, you know, keep a lookout,” Patel warned.

Anyone with information on the recent crimes is urged to call the Giles County Sheriff’s Department at 931-363-2460.

A reward is being offered for the arrest and conviction of the thieves.

News is committed to tracking crime across Middle Tennessee. Visit wkrn.com/crimetracker for the latest.