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Sheriff’s office investigates a string of residential burglaries on Vashon

One day this spring, when Linda Bianchi went to put away a pearl earring she’d recently had repaired, she found that some of her jewelry was missing. She also found, in the coming weeks, that many island women have surprisingly similar stories.

The King County Sheriff’s Office is now investigating the apparent string of residential burglaries.

Since Bianchi reported the theft, three other women have contacted the sheriff’s office because they, too, recently discovered jewelry missing, according to Sgt. Cindi West, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office. After Bianchi’s story circulated, five women contacted her with their own stories of stolen jewelry, she said, including some who have not reported their losses to police.

The spate of thefts extends beyond jewelry and includes a valuable guitar recently taken from a home near Gold Beach and a rare coin collection and cash that had been tucked away in a jewelry box in a home off Cove Road. Earlier this month, a woman in Burton arrived home to find a strange vehicle in her driveway and encountered a man walking out of her house. She expects he is a suspect in the thefts, she said.

Adding to the situation’s twists and turns, this month a sheriff’s deputy, acting on a tip that some of the stolen items might be on the roof of Joy’s Cleaners, climbed up, fell through the roof and was injured. He is expected to return to work soon, West said.

According to Bianchi, all the victims she has talked with said there was no sign of forced entry at their homes and that nothing was disturbed.

“You have no idea anyone’s been in your home,” she said.

West confirmed that the lack of telltale clues in the reported cases and noted that more islanders may have had items stolen but may not have noticed them missing yet. She suggested islanders take stock of their possessions, and if anything is missing, contact authorities.

“They should absolutely report it,” she said.

News about the thefts and a potential suspect have been circulating on Vashon by word of mouth and email list serves. West, however, declined to comment on specifics, but stressed that the string of thefts is being actively investigated.

She added that islanders should lock their doors and windows when they leave their homes. Most who had items stolen said they did not always lock their doors when they were out, West said, but it is not clear yet if the intruder always comes in through unlocked doors and windows or sometimes uses a device to gain entry without leaving clues behind.

Bianchi, who has since installed a security system, believes the thief stole $5,000 to $10,000 worth of jewelry, including diamond and aquamarine earrings, a sapphire ring and gold bracelets — and perhaps other items she has not discovered yet.

“They knew what to go for,” she said.

The items were in a drawer in her bedroom, she said, and like several of the other women who shared their stories, she at first  wondered if someone close to her — a family member, a housecleaner or a landscape worker — might have taken the items.

“You don’t even imagine there’s an outsider who’s come into your room,” she said.

Maria Pottinger, who lives near Portage, noticed late last month that about half of her jewelry was missing, she said. It, too, had been inside a dresser drawer, and she thought perhaps one of her young children or one their friends might have taken the items, attracted, she said, to “shiny baubles.” She said she had several difficult conversations with the parents of her children’s friends, hoping to get her jewelry back while not involving the authorities.

“You think of everybody, and nobody makes sense,” she said.

After she learned about some of the other thefts, she said, she called the police.

Pottinger believes about 10 items are missing, including her mother’s wedding ring, a birthstone ring from high school and a tennis bracelet she bought long ago.

The thefts of such items would be difficult enough from a store, she said, but the thief has stolen heirlooms and wedding rings — items with personal significance.

“This is not just inventory,” Pottinger said. “It is not emotionless stock.”

Pottinger said the family kept their doors unlocked most of the time, but they have a large dog that is typically home and that she thought would have been a deterrent to any intruders.

Because she doesn’t wear her fine jewelry often, she doesn’t know exactly when it was taken — possibly anytime between Christmas and late May.

In upper Burton, Linda Sferra said she believes she knows exactly when this month a thief stole her favorite earrings and a bracelet from what she described as a “well-hidden, safe place.” A vehicle had been spotted in her driveway while she was out one day, she said, and it matched the description of the vehicle a neighbor encountered in her driveway that same day.

The earrings will not be valuable to the thief, she said, but they meant a great deal to her because she bought them on a trip to Italy with her mother.

“He created the perfect lose-lose situation,” she said of the thief. “We both have nothing.”

Unlike other victims, Sferra said there was an indication a thief had been in her home, and, in fact, she believes he was likely there twice.

Though Sferra feels violated, she said the repercussions from the thefts are larger than her own experience.

“This threatens our Vashon lifestyle: honor bar flower stands, honor bar vegetable stands, living without putting energy into defending your stuff.”

Sferra’s neighbor Trish Howard, who came upon a man walking out of her home, said she doesn’t have jewelry and found nothing missing after the incident. She believes she may have interrupted the man when she pulled into the driveway. His vehicle was parked at an odd angle, she said, and was facing out. She parked in front of it and stayed in her car, but asked him if she could help him and if he was looking for someone. The man claimed he was looking for someone who was a detective, and Howard said she suggested he talk with her neighbor, Dept. Jeff Hancock. The man, in fact, went next door and spoke with him. Hancock could not be reached for comment about the incident.

Ironically, Howard said, she may have cooked dinner for the man because she is a volunteer with the free community meals program, and she believes she recognized him from a recent dinner.

In Dilworth, Glenna Mileson said she was startled to find jewelry missing from her bedroom late last month. She is in the same book group as Bianchi, she said, and had talked with her the month before about Bianchi’s stolen jewelry.

Like some of the other women, she has looked for her jewelry in places it might now be for sale, she said, and contacted the detective on the case to learn, if possible, how to track down her belongings, including her wedding ring and an opal necklace she cherishes that she purchased on a family trip to Australia.

Unlike many of the others, Mileson said her family usually locks the doors when they leave, though it was possible they may have been unlocked when the thief entered, which she expects was sometime in mid- to late May. She, too, said she first imagined that a friend or family member must have taken the items — a thought she did not relish.

But it was difficult to think otherwise.

“On Vashon, we have no experience with this,” she said.

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