By Jeff Lehr
JOPLIN, Mo. —
They cut a hole in the fence at the back of Frank Fletcher Ford’s lot, and pried open doors on both the west and east ends of the car dealership to gain entry.
Once inside, they went straight for the safe and cut into it.
The burglary early Monday morning at 3015 E. Turkey Creek Blvd. struck a familiar note with area police departments.
“There’s been very similar (burglaries) in almost every town between here and Springfield,” said Joplin police spokesman Michael Gayman.
Carthage police Chief Greg Dagnan said the first of seven similar break-ins at car dealerships began with a bang the night of May 19-20. Not only were John Hoffer Dodge and Carthage Ford-Mercury in Carthage hit that night, but also Roper Honda in Joplin.
Since then, burglars struck Pinegar Chevrolet in Republic the night of May 24-25, Griffith Motor Co. in Neosho on May 31-June 1 and Kenny Neal Ford in Sarcoxie on June 4-5.
“It’s apparent from the crime scenes that it’s the same person or persons,” Dagnan said.
He said similarities have been detected in how entry was made at each of the dealerships, what the burglars did once they got inside, and how the safes were opened.
Entry was gained through an overhead door at Griffith Motor Co., according to Neosho police Chief David McCracken. He said the burglars went immediately to the office and broke into a safe using the dealership’s own tools.
“It took quite a bit of work to get the safe open,” McCracken said.
Several locked filing cabinets also were broken into, he said. More than $1,000 in cash was taken from the safe.
Area police departments have been sharing information in a joint investigative effort to solve the burglaries. Dagnan said investigators have been meeting on a near-daily basis to share leads and develop suspects.
“We’ve been working it pretty hard,” he said.
Possible first break-in
CARTHAGE POLICE CHIEF GREG DAGNAN said a burglary at a car dealership in Lebanon, Mo., may have been the first in a series of related break-ins in Southwest Missouri. But a link there seems less certain than with seven other burglaries in the region, he said.