Man arrested for breaking into Southeast cabins, stealing skiffs

Posted: Wednesday, March 03, 2004

PETERSBURG - A man suspected of traveling in a stolen government skiff and burglarizing Southeast cabins has been arrested.

Norman Larue Vandergriff, 52, is charged with theft of two guns and two skiffs, including one owned by the U.S. Forest Service, plus forgery and entering a building with intent to commit a crime. He's also suspected of collecting information that could be used in identity theft, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Magistrate Darlene Whitet-horne last week ordered Vandergriff held on $25,000 cash-only bail, citing a criminal record that dates back to 1969, Vandergriff's brief time in Petersburg, and a current arrest warrant in Colorado.

Vandergriff was being held Tuesday at Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau.

Vandergriff told the magistrate he had been in Petersburg since January and had been employed at Norquest Seafoods for about a week.

Trooper Scott Carson told the Petersburg Pilot that Vandergriff is linked to at least seven cabin break-ins.

"There's been three that we have overwhelming evidence that he's committed, and probably another four more that we've got strong evidence he's committed," Carson said. "There's some other reported break-ins that we believe he's been involved with but we're still investigating those at this time."

Carson said the break-ins took place in Wrangell Narrows and Duncan Canal over the last two months.

"We also believe he could have gone down into Sumner Strait and (done) some damage near the Wrangell area," he said.

Though Vandergriff is charged with stealing the skiffs and guns, Carson said he is more interested in the suspect's potential for identity theft. A search warrant of Vandergriff's wallet turned up a list of 30-40 names and social security numbers.

Carson said he did not recognize any of the names as Petersburg residents but a local woman's credit card was also found in the wallet, as well as a $2,200 bad check created using the name of a local resident.

"The state's going to continue the investigation on Mr. Vandergriff, which, in the end, seems to be so much greater than the charge we're dealing with today," Carson said. "It really appears we've just hit the tip of the iceberg on this guy.

The cabin thefts were tied together with physical evidence, witness identifications and similarities between crime scenes, Carson said.

"He kept the cabins in a real clean state of affairs," Carson said. "He would make the bed when he left if he stayed overnight, he cleaned up, and the victims had a real hard time telling if they had been broken into."

One victim even received a thank-you note.

Carson said Vandergriff may have kept cabins tidy to buy time for the use of identity information he obtained in them.

"He really keyed in on people's bank statement or social security numbers - anything he could use to get credit cards fraudulently," he said.

Vandergriff held seven credit cards in other people's names when he was arrested.

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