Police may have a lead in rash of downtown thefts

Locals return some stolen items found; others give donations to help rescue worker replace stolen gear

Posted: Friday, February 07, 2003

A former girlfriend may have provided information police need to catch a suspect in thefts from vehicles parked near Merchants Wharf this winter.

Police said they received a call recently from a woman who said she had been dating the man responsible for the thefts but recently broke up with him. Police did not release the name of any suspect.

The rash of thefts, beginning in December, struck at least five people, most of whom were employees or regular patrons of the Hangar on the Wharf restaurant downtown. Items stolen included mountain rescue equipment valued at $2,200, college textbooks valued at $400 and camera equipment worth more than $5,000.

Police said they are cautiously optimistic about the new information.

"The tip led us to a pawn shop where we found a radio matching a description of one that was stolen," said officer Keith Mickelsen. "But we are still trying to put other stuff together to see what we have."

Police have a copy of the ID presented when the radio was pawned, but are not sure if they have a suspect. Mickelsen said the person could have bought the radio from the suspect.

So far, the radio was the only item found at a pawn shop, Mickelsen said.

Meanwhile, the community has banded together to help some of the victims.

Steve Handy, a member of Juneau Mountain Rescue whose climbing gear was stolen, said he received calls from people offering equipment and cash after they saw an article about the thefts in the Jan. 21 Empire.

He said Alaska Communications Systems and the local International Brotherhood of Electricians set up a $2,222 line of credit for Handy at the Foggy Mountain Shop to cover the cost of replacing his gear.

"I have no bitterness (about the theft)," said Handy. "On the contrary, I feel even more at home here in Juneau. We have an incredible community, and I think people know it and want to keep it that way. I 'heart' Juneau."

Katie Chapman, a waitress at the Hangar on the Wharf and full-time student, had $400 worth of school books, 200 CDs and a purse containing her credit cards and ID stolen from her vehicle.

Since the theft, two of her textbooks were found in Cope Park and returned to her.

"I had seven books taken in all. But the most expensive ones, for my math and chemistry class - the ones that are most important to me right now - were returned to me," said Chapman. "Someone had read the (Empire) article about the thefts, saw the books and brought them to me. I was so happy. I couldn't believe I got them back."

Chapman said she located some items from her wallet at the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which runs a thrift store and homeless shelter, among other services. She was led there by an anonymous phone call.

Anyone with information regarding the thefts should call police at 586-0600.

Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com.

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