Manoa grad student chases sophisticated campus burglar

A dramatic first-hand story of a UH Manoa grad student’s brush with a sophisticated campus burglar was circulating in the College of Social Sciences yesterday.

He returned to his office in the Geography Department on the 4th floor of Saunders Hall around 9:30 p.m. on Thursday night and chased a man seen coming out of his office.

Here’s his account as circulated by college officials (I’ve made some minor edits).

As I was entering my office, just after turning the key, a tall guy in blue (maybe 6 feet) pushed past me, saying “Excuse me.”

After my initial shock at there being anyone emerging from my locked office, I gave chase to the burglar. He ran down the hall in the direction of the department lounge, then turned left and took the stairwell down. I was yelling at him to stop, got close about a floor down, and grabbed his left sleeve. The sleeve ripped off, but this delayed him a little bit, so my next grab was for a backpack that he carried. I was worried it was mine. I again yelled at him to stop, but he got away. I have a few bruises and scrapes from the chase, but am otherwise okay.

I took the backpack to my office and immediately called UH campus security. Before campus security arrived, I searched the bag to see if the burglar had identification in it, or if he had any of my stuff. I did not see any ID or anything that belonged to me. I took some pictures of the items in the backpack before campus security came. They (campus security) were there in about 5 minutes. They took my statement, and then called HPD. HPD also inspected the scene of the crime and the contents of the backpack.

[text]In the backpack were an assortment of burglary tools – different kinds of pliers, 3 hacksaws, many, many different sizes of tiny screwdrivers (apparently for picking locks), rubber things to put on your fingers to avoid leaving fingerprints, gatorade and water, 2 or 3 spray canisters of liquids, and two electronic devices that all of us were curious about.

After HPD and campus security examined the devices (one of the attached pictures shows the two together), they figured that one of the devices had a photocell sensor that sends a signal to the other device. The other device, which apparently had a range of up to 100 feet, sounded an alarm when it got the signal from the device with the photo sensor, kinda like the sound that you hear when you enter some 7-11 stores or gas station convenience stores.

One of the campus security guys proposed that the photo sensor sent the signal anytime the lights were turned on in the room. Having thought about it a little bit, it seems to me more reasonable for a burglar to have the sensor trigger the signal anytime the lights were turned off. That way, if the burglar was nearby (say in the lounge or in the hall), they would know that the occupant of the office had just left. Anyway, that’s just my guess…I’m no expert on this stuff.

[text]The first device was fitted inside a casing that was a white electrical outlet box. The second device (the receiver) had earphones attached, presumably to muffle the alarm triggered by the signal from the other device.

Anyway, I just thought I’d warn everyone that we have some sophisticated burglars prowling Saunders. Please don’t leave your valuables in your office, and look out for extra devices that may appear in or around your office space. They might be planting these things in these offices and then waiting nearby for the moment that you step out. Just a thought.

Whew. Phony electrical outlets planted as burglar alarms in reverse! Are many off-campus burglars this sophisticated?

8 responses to “Manoa grad student chases sophisticated campus burglar

  1. It’s happened again…. There’s a banner ad for home security systems on the top of your homepage…

  2. Somebody this clever could make himself a pretty decent living legally.

  3. clever, but he did almost get caught… which is not that clever.

  4. Pretty surprising. Most Hawaii bandits are, um, rather primitive operators. Mainland thieves use screwdrivers etc to steal your car stereo. Hawaii thieves use rocks through a windshield or window. Etc. It could change everything if island bad guys actually had half a brain that wasn’t addled by meth.

  5. Given only the theory presented by the victim, I don’t think the suspect is a random meth addict. More likely he is a student or a member of the staff/faculty, because the scheme involves hanging around waiting for his sensor to trigger and during that time frame he would need to avoid suspicion. Also, for the plan to work the burglar would need to install the sensor in the target office without drawing suspicion. Like the movie, “Fletch,” where looking the part and a norm-conforming attitude will lull victims into complacency.

    Not to say that there are no “functioning” meth addicts working or attending UH… nor people on campus who are not addicts but look the part.

  6. Teddy Freddy

    It begs the question of course: What was some important that was in that office, that the thief knew was in that particular office – that would warrant such sophistication? Most would think that large sums of money would not be located in the office. Nor would there be drugs or jewelry or other typical meth objects of desire. The level of sophistication makes me wonder if there are “secrets” of some sort the thief was after? Research and or U.H. inside information?

    • Of course, we don’t know that the thief went for that particular office. He may have chosen a target of opportunity, or may have been in other offices as well.

  7. ohiaforest3400

    If he got the guys sleeve, backpack, and backpack contents, there has to be DNA and/or fingerprints somewhere on the stuff. Let’s see what HPD develops (if it has the inclination).

    And I’m with Teddy Freddy; this is is way too sophisticated for the average drug-addled thief or opportunist. I saw a number of burglary kits in a past professional life and this one tops the list in sophistication/ingenuity. Then again, maybe that’s the Internet for you . . . .

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