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Rock County authorities investigating rash of bar burglaries

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
January 7, 2012
— At the Wolf’s Den, 1704 Rockport Road, the new year rang in with a burglar alarm, a busted-open poker machine and the quick theft of cash.

The motion security alarm at the bar sounded at 5:45 a.m. Jan. 1. When police arrived six minutes later, the burglar or burglars were gone—along with all of the money in the poker machine.


“They had to have gotten in and out quick—no time at all,” said Wolf’s Den owner Mary Stenulson.


A burglar appeared to have cracked into the poker machine with two prying tools, Stenulson said, but nothing else at the bar was disturbed or stolen.


“They didn’t take booze, beer, anything else,” Stenulson said. “They wanted cash.”


It’s a trend that has area detectives comparing notes, Janesville, Milton and Rock County law enforcement officials say. Since mid-December 2011, area police have reported a rash of at least a dozen burglaries at bars and taverns.


They’re happening in the hours after closing time. The burglars seem to be going after cash, and they’re busting into poker machines and cash registers to get it. Investigators suspect the burglars are using the cash to buy drugs, especially heroin.


Police are investigating whether some of the burglaries could be linked or if the same person or group of people is carrying them out. Police say they have no firm suspects.


Capt. Todd Christiansen of the Rock County Sheriff’s Detective Bureau said there have been six tavern burglaries throughout the county in the last month. In almost all cases, burglars seemed to target gaming machines for cash.


Christiansen said authorities in municipalities countywide, along with police in neighboring counties, are working together to investigate similar burglaries.


He said it might not be a leap to speculate the burglaries are tied to drug use.


“We make that assumption,” he said. “In the past, it seems like the burglaries targeting the cash, it’s being used to subsidize the drug habits. We’re just making that assumption.


““We’ve got the heroin problem in the county,” he added. “In the past, that seems to have been the drug of choice for the ones we’ve had contact with, the burglars.”


Along with the Wolf’s Den, two other Janesville taverns—Wedges, 2006 N. County E, and Road Dawg, 2419 Morse St.—have had been burglarized in the last three weeks, said Janesville Police Lt. Keith Lawver.


Lawver says cash is king for burglars who need money quick.


“If you’re just taking cash, you don’t have to sell (stolen) property or trade it on the street,” he said. “You can do anything you want with it at that point. It’s much more liquid.”


Authorities are searching for two people who evaded Milton police in a pickup truck during a high-speed chase early Wednesday. The pursuit came minutes before officers learned that Gopher’s Bar and Grill, 229 N. Janesville St., had been burglarized.


Police found the truck Wednesday in Illinois, but not those who were driving it.


Another Milton bar, The Red Zone Pub and Grill, 430 W. High St., was burglarized Dec. 30. In both that burglary and the one at Gopher’s, cash was taken, said Milton Police Chief Dan Layber.


Gopher’s owner Tina Thompson said burglars entered the establishment through a window and cracked into her ATM and poker machines, emptying them of cash. A laptop computer she’d left at the bar was untouched.


Layber said the burglars don’t appear to be rummaging around for items.


“They’re looking for something they can get quickly and get the heck out of there,” he said.


Detectives don’t have identification on the burglar or burglars, Layber said. The burglars appear adept at dodging bar security systems.


“They’re pretty conscious of alarm systems and video,” he said.


Christiansen said it’s hit and miss for burglars who rob tavern gaming machines. Sometimes, the machines have significant amounts of money inside. Other times, they’re empty or nearly empty.


Stenulson said the Wolf’s Den was lucky it had a slow night New Year’s Eve. The bar’s poker machine had less cash than usual.


“They (burglars) were probably ticked off at us,” Stenulson said.



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