It wasn’t long after Michele Abidin left her Compton Heights home that they showed up.
First the kitchen window shattered, scattering shards into the sink and onto the floor.
Then they entered: One crawling through the window and the second coming through the backdoor. They are “the Uninvited”, also known as burglars.
Their entry was all captured on security cameras, along with the fact that one of them had a handgun.
Later, Abbadin would tell us: “To know that you could potentially have been at home and potentially been shot."
Worse, this was the second time that the home been broken into in a mere seven years.
But Five On Your Side has found that figure is ‘nothing’, when it comes to the St. Louis region. After crunching years of crime reports for both St. Louis city and county, we found homes all over our area that were broken into four times, others five times and six times, and some burglarized seven times in a period of three years.
We also found that while burglary seems to be ‘everywhere’, some neighborhoods are getting hit harder than others.
For example, in south St. Louis we found the 63118 zip code region had almost 2,000 residential burglaries in three years, with a lot of that activity concentrated in a hot spot located between Chippewa and Meramec streets and on the west and east side by South Grand and South Broadway. Here, some multi-family homes were hit five times in three years.
Many of these residences were burglarized by teams, such a highly-coordinated gang of five women caught on video.
But working in groups is something Tommie Carson is quite familiar with.
“I went in with a team of two to three people, everyone had a walkie-talkie,” he says.
He was once a professional burglar.
“I would say I broke in over 100 homes” Carson says. “100 plus easy.”
And he says he and his team, left little to chance: “We knew exactly where we were, we knew the routes that we were going to take home, we knew the ways to get into the house without having any type of detection.”
Now on the straight and narrow for nearly 15 years, Carson says he shares the tricks of his past trade to help protect the public and to atone for his past.
“I have so much pain from knowing the things that I have done” says Carson, “I'm now trying to do my best to make amends for that.”
But we also consulted another expert for our look at burglary in our area, especially when we visited our second high crime spot.
In the 63136 zip code area in north St. Louis County, we found that 1,500 residential break-ins happened in three years. Two-hundred and twenty of those occurred in a small neighborhood in Castle Point. Here many homes reported five burglaries in those three years.
Why there? For the answer, we visited the hot spot with security expert Mike Barbieri.
It didn’t take him long to notice something.
“The backs of these residences are almost impossible to see if you were a police officer on patrol” said Barbieri.
Oddly enough, we’d previously asked Carson what was “an inviting sign to a burglar?”
“Privacy fence, any type of trees or foliage around it, seclusion.”
In fact, Carson took it a step further: “Want to scare a burglar away?” he asked us.
“Take your back yard, open it up to your neighbors so they can see you, they can see your windows, they can see your back porch,” Carson answered. “That may make a guy think twice.”
And finally, what about the west St. Louis County area?
There, we found fewer burglaries, but a greater volume of higher priced items being stolen in each crime.
This was especially true for an area near Ballwin, situated in-between Manchester and Big Bend Roads and bordered by New Ballwin and Sulfur Spring roads.
Here we also saw quite a few alarm company signs posted on front lawns, signifying that the property was protected by a security system.
But Tommie Carson told us, these signs have a drawback: “For someone who was on my level, that alarm sign was actually a helper.”
“Because we know what the alarm companies do” he said, referring to how long the company will try to call the customer at home, before finally calling the police.
“We always went in with the stop watch saying we got three and half to four minutes and we're gone.”
Protect yourself with wisdom from the experts:
Five On Your Side spoke with a number of experts on the subject of burglary: From former professional thieves to the current heads of security companies. Here are their tips on how you can better protect yourself from “The Uninvited”.
* If you have an audible alarm system, don’t advertise it. This means NOT having signs or stickers announcing the type of system you have (such as lawn signs or window decals.) The reason for this? It just gives criminals advanced warning on what they will be dealing with and even how long they’ll have to steal from you before the police arrive. It also takes away the shock and surprise factor of an alarm suddenly going off when they didn’t expect one. Experts say more than anything else, it’s the unexpected that makes thieves walk away from a break-in.
* We all desire privacy, but large hedges, big fences that block the line of sight, and other methods of creating a barrier between you and your neighbors comes with a price. In short, that privacy is more inviting to thieves wanting to break-in to your home. So consider doing without these items so your neighbors have a clear view of your backyard. It may keep thieves from breaking in to your home. (Another thing: Get a motion-sensitive light for that backyard.)
* Check to see that not only your doors are locked, but also your WINDOWS. Experts we spoke to say that unlocked windows are frequently an easy entrance for crooks, often because home owners didn’t know they were unsecured.
* An additional tip regarding windows: Drill a 3/16" hole through the inside window frame, on a slight downward slant, and halfway into the outside frame. Then place a nail in the hole. This will make the windows even more difficult to open from the outside.
* If you have an attached garage, be sure that the door between it and the house is locked. Often home owners will leave, locking the garage, but not the door to the house. Thieves know this.
* Don’t leave (or let your children leave) items of value on the front lawn and other places, outside the house. Bicycles, lawn mowers, barbecues and other items should be moved inside before you leave. While these aren’t much of an attraction to professional burglars, to beginners they can act as attractants that then lead to an actual break-in
* Pushbutton locks on doorknobs are easy for burglars to open. Put deadbolt locks on ALL of your outside doors.
* When moving into a pre-existing home, have ALL the locks changed.
* If you have an alarm system, have it tested by an independent electrician or other expert at least once a year. Also, make certain that besides ringing inside the home, that the phone connections are working and alerting either your alarm company or police directly.
"But what about my neighborhood?":
Search our burglary database
KSDK requested burglary incident data from the St. Louis City police, St. Louis County police, and police departments in 42 of the largest municipalities within St. Louis County. This data reflects reported burglaries and related incidents such as break-ins. Different departments define and report these incidents in different ways, so they should not be compared statistically across regions or time periods.
Some municipalities did not timely respond to KSDK’s requests for data. These maps will be updated as municipalities fulfill requests.