Burglary spree rings in Hyde Park new year

By Chris Ross

Leah Myette, a second-year graduate student, returned to her Hyde Park apartment from winter break to find the door wrenched open, the deadbolt broken, and her dresser rummaged through. Fourth-year Ashley Colby returned to find a bag of her jewelry on the floor and the front door left swinging open.

Myette and Colby were just two victims in a string of approximately 20 apartment burglaries that struck the Hyde Park neighborhood during the University’s winter vacation, between December 9 and January 3.

“Most of the burglaries were forced entry,” said Howard Lodding, commander of the Chicago Police Department’s 21st District. “That means residents didn’t leave doors unlocked, but that the doors were kicked down.”

Entries were also made through unlocked windows, broken bathroom and bedroom windows, or broken rear door windows.

“The most common stolen materials were things someone could pocket: jewels, currency, coins, but also laptops or electronics,” said Bob Richards, law enforcement coordinator for the South East Chicago Commission.

The spike of house burglaries in December likely occurred as many Hyde Park residents, especially students, were away for extended periods of time during the holidays.

One burglary suspect was arrested on December 25 at the 5600 block of South University Avenue.

Leah Myette’s apartment at East 54th Street and South Blackstone Avenue was burglarized December 14. The thieves made off with a family heirloom, an expensive watch, and an iPod.

The burglars were buzzed up under the pretense that they had forgotten their keys, after which they broke into Myette’s door with a crowbar.

The building’s management fixed the door, reinforced the frame, and strengthened the locks. “Immediately afterward, I was a little paranoid,” Myette said. “I felt like I was being targeted.”

At the apartment of fourth-years Bridget Hogan and Ashley Colby on 54th Place and Ellis, burglars took advantage of an unlocked window and stole two desktop computers and a laptop. A bag of jewelry and quarters on the floor led Hogan and Colby to believe the burglars had left in haste, possibly as Colby was entering the apartment.

The latest incident marked the third break-in at their location in three years. On previous occasions, K&G, their landlord, had strengthened entry security.

“With rent rising every year, it is extremely frustrating,” Hogan said. “I mean, this is the third time.”

Fourth-years Dan Schnitzer and Ben Levinstein lost a desktop computer, 60 DVDs, a television, modem, and an SLR camera from their residence at 54th and Woodlawn. “The modem was actually the most damaging loss, since I don’t have Internet access in my apartment for the time-being,” Levinstein said.

“The thing that really bothers me is that the University doesn’t represent this kind of situation at all,” Schnitzer said. “I don’t think anyone entering the school is told that, living off campus, it’s likely they’ll know someone who gets robbed or may get robbed themselves.”

Most burglary victims were impressed by the police response.

“Officers from both [University Police and Chicago Police] departments spent a good amount of time asking questions and looking around the area to see if there were any other break-ins or if some of the stuff was left outside,” Levinstein said. “The CPD sent an evidence tech guy who came to dust for prints.”

The UCPD and CPD stress the importance of reporting suspicious behavior, such as prowling on back porches or carrying TVs on the street. Measures to prevent burglaries include always locking doors and windows and never buzzing in strangers.

Struggling for a silver lining, Levinstein and Schnitzer reflected on the now-empty space where their television once sat. “I sort of think that was a blessing in disguise,” Levinstein said. “I get a lot more work done now.”