Serial burglaries plague Winters

Staff Writer
Runnels County Register
One of the burglars wears distinctive shoes that are light colored on top and dark colored on the bottom. There is also a black, vertical stripe on the back with a loop at the top

Winters is a small close-knit town where everyone knows everyone, and some families have been friends for 5 or 6 generations. Walk into J & T Hardware and you hear conversations, not only about guns and construction, but about children and grandchildren and all manner of daily goings on in life. These days you hear conversations about who was the most recent victim in a string of burglaries dating back to March.

The string of burglaries has caused edginess inside and outside the town, “They started with items from yards, then it went to cars and now they’re going into homes while the people are sleeping,” says recent victim Jessica Jacob. Currently, it’s estimated that there have been 30-40 burglaries of homes, burglaries of vehicles and thefts from yards.

The thieves came to the Jacob home and looked inside the windows, then went into Craig Jacob’s truck and stole his .40 Smith and Wesson pistol, “We have pictures of them coming up to the windows of the house and looking inside. They’re wearing masks and gloves so the police have very little evidence to go on,” Craig says. Jessica says that the Jacobs were alarmed by the incident, “Was he (suspect) trying to see if we have a dog? Was he trying to see if we’d wake up? He walked right by my daughter’s window. We have 3 children, a 7 year-old, 3 year-old and a 1-year old.” The theft occurred at 11:36 p.m. on September 28th. The burglars also hit neighbors of the Jacob’s around 2 a.m.

The Jacobs said that the Runnels County sheriff’s office responded to the call, “The deputies came out and searched the area. They got out and walked and looked for any clues. The thieves didn’t come from the road, they cut through the woods. They hit another house before ours.” This would seemingly indicate that the thieves are either from the area, or that they are out casing places before they hit them.

A Facebook group, Winters Neighborhood Watch, has sprung up and has 670 members, the numbers increasing every day as more people get involved trying to catch the culprits. In one case, the suspects stole a car and crashed it, “It’s as if they wanted to send a message,” Jessica says. According to the Jacobs, the sheriff’s office and Winters Police Department are investigating, but the information is sparse, “We feel like we’re not hearing from the police on what they’re doing to catch the guys. We appreciate that they’re doing everything within their ability, but is that enough? The only updates we get are from our own Neighborhood Watch group. We know that our local law enforcement officers are stretched thin, but the situation is frustrating.”

Runnels County sheriff Carl Squyers has said that he has called in the Texas Rangers to assist with the investigation, “I have requested help from the Ranger service and they will be assisting us. I will not say in what capacity that they will be helping us at this point.”

The Jacobs believe that the number of cases since March is around 35 or so.

Jessica believes the thieves are well prepared, not the type of snatch-and-grab thieves and that they are not simply hitting targets of opportunity, “They don’t seem like the meth-head type. They’re calm and very deliberate.“ She also believes that the thieves were familiar with the property, which is located a couple of hundred yards down a private driveway off of the closest Farm-to-Market road, ”He (suspect) has to have been to our house before. I don’t want to be an alarmist, but they aren’t just stealing stuff and taking it to a pawn shop. I just don’t think it’s that simple because they are too deliberate.“

Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of the burglaries, according to the Jacobs, are the number of firearms the thieves have stolen, “I’d say that they stole guns in 90% of the cases.” Jessica also says that she’s worried about someone innocent getting hurt, “What I’m afraid of is someone who is not one of the suspects, who might be up to drop off a package, might get shot because so many people are on edge around here. Even the city council is not getting or providing any answers.”

Jessica says that there have been a couple of other situations that recently occurred, “I was up at the track where I go to jog. A white van pulled up next to my car and the guy just sat there.” She said that on September 28th, she saw a man walking along the county road, “It’s not common for people to walk out here on the county roads.”

Little is known about the suspects. Craig says that the first suspect on the Jacob’s security system appears to be tall, perhaps over 6’, “He was tall enough to look in the top windows of our door.” He wears a small backpack that is light colored and has, what appears to be, dark piping. He wears distinctive tennis shoes that are white or gray on top and black towards the bottom, with a vertical black stripe on the back and a black loop off the back of the shoes.

The thieves are bold, walking up even when security lights are on, going through cars in driveways and going into homes with people sleeping inside. In one video, a suspect walks right up to a bright security light and turns it off. The suspects seem to have very little fear as their thefts have escalated from items in the yard, to vehicles and now into residential burglaries.

There are several other descriptions of the suspects making the rounds. Other than those about their clothing and backpack on the photos and videos, to print the varied descriptions here might be misleading and cause citizens to overlook those who might actually be the suspects. Printing a potentially inaccurate description could cause a shadow of suspicion to fall on someone who is innocent.

The people of Winters have already adopted the most proactive approach that anyone can take; They have their Neighborhood Watch group organized, they’re sharing information on social media and they’re continuing to ask questions of the police and city council. They even take shifts driving up and down the streets all night to keep an eye on things.

It’s also been reported that the suspects may have been in Wingate recently. Any home or farm is a potential target.

A report over the weekend said that the Runnels County Sheriff’s department had made arrests in the burglaries. But, that information is inaccurate according to a social media post by Squyers on the Winters Neighborhood Watch Facebook group, “The report of nine arrested last night at the hotel in Winters is NOT true...we spend more time checking into rumors that end up completely untrue than we do actual leads...the Sheriff’s Office just 10-04-20/7:20pm searched property we were told had stolen property...found nothing. This property was property belonging to a prior victim....but we get a lead we follow it. I know everyone wants this stopped, and no one more than us...we just can’t keep up with the rumors. If what ever you are reporting didn’t come from the actual person reporting it, please don’t repeat is costing law enforcement time.”

What to know:

So far, there are 2 suspects.

Suspect #1 is, allegedly, 6’ tall or more, according to the Jacobs.

Both suspects were hoodies and wear dark colored gloves.

Both suspects are wearing masks.

One suspect it wearing a small, light colored backpack with dark trim or piping.

In one photo, a suspect is wearing a dark backpack with light colored trim.

The tall suspect wears shoes that are light colored on top, black along the bottom, black vertical stripe on the back of the shoe with a black loop.

They’ve allegedly cut through woods and pastures to get to homes, avoiding roads.

There are steps to take to help prevent becoming a victim according to various security websites:

Lock your vehicles and don’t leave firearms inside them.

Keep your home’s doors and windows locked.

Install security lights and cameras. There are several reasonably priced surveillance camera systems available. Even doorbell cameras are helpful in some cases.

Keep expensive items out of your yard and in your garage or home.

Keep your garage doors closed.

Keep trees and shrubs around your home pruned. It gives less concealment to any thieves.

Immediately report suspicious activity to 9-1-1. Try to keep them in view as long as it’s safe to do so.

Don’t approach the suspects yourself. Remember, they have stolen numerous firearms.

May police department and home security websites recommend getting a dog.

One of the thieves wears a small, distinctive backpack that appears to have black, or dark colored piping and zipper.