MAY 31, 3:16 A.M.: Latasha S. and her co-worker, Alexis D., were working the night shift at a 7-Eleven in the 4300 block of North Pine Hills Road. Outside, the night was dark, but inside, fluorescent lights were as bright as a light saber. The aroma of slowly rotating hot dogs, brewed coffee and other late-night goodies wafted through the air. But the scent of snacks isn't what lured two nearby burglars.
Suddenly, two men sporting black shirts, black shorts and Darth Vader masks burst through the store's glass doors. One drew his handgun on Ms. S., demanding through the cheap, plastic mask that she stand by the register. The other instructed Ms. D. to take the cash out of the drawer. While frantically opening the drawer, one clammy-faced burglar bonked Ms. D. on the back of the head with his handgun and then snatched $200 from the register. They grabbed two packs of cigarettes valued at $9 before fleeing the scene on foot, perhaps back to their TIE Fighter spacecraft.
Unfortunately for 7-Eleven, the force had not been with them.
MAY 28, 5 A.M.: For those who opt not to hide their mugs behind masks, there are other ways to stay disguised.
In the 100 block of North Magnolia Avenue, The Cathedral Church of Saint Luke seemed undisturbed. Wrought-iron fences and tightly locked gates cradled the four-building structure, and the black night camouflaged its existence. But all wasn't holy in the house of God, where one sinful suspect had possibly been hiding since daylight for the sake of one saintly soda machine.
When cathedral worker William M. received a call from St. Luke's alarm-system provider, Sonitrol, he responded with speed. The clanging sound of metal against metal was reportedly heard from the chapter and education building, but when Mr. M. arrived to inspect the scene, the metallic racket had ceased. He canceled the police response.
By then, perhaps, the damage had already begun. At some point in the night, the burglar broke into a glowing Coca-Cola vending machine, emptying it of churchgoers' spare pocket change. Before exiting with the coin collection, the impious perp picked up a $20 transistor radio and raced out the door. At least our suspect was kind enough to leave the Coke.
MAY 26, 5:30 P.M.: Two days prior, a third burglar struck, this time using a more typical method to conceal identity: breaking in after closing time.
After a full day of smoke sales, The Pipe & Pouch Smoke Shop owner Linda B. locked her shop in the 50 block of North Orange Avenue. Sometime after, probably once the bustling avenue became calm, a suspect in need of nicotine emerged. The burglar smashed the window on the store's front door, unlocked it and entered the smoke sanctum. Two hundred dollars was immediately stolen from the cash register, but the pungent aroma of fine tobacco taunted the burglar to grab more goods. Before exiting via the rear door, approximately $1,860 worth of miscellaneous cigars and cigarettes were taken a hefty collection of cancer sticks.
MAY 25, 9:40 P.M.: Sometimes burglars do muster the bravery to flaunt their faces in the name of crime. But the added pressure could cause them to crack.
Denise F. was working at the Whiskey River Whiskey Store in the 200 block of North Orange Blossom Trail when a puny male approached the counter. The 34-year-old man, standing a mere 5 feet 4 inches tall, requested to buy a half-pint of vodka and one pack of cigarettes. Ms. F. fetched the smokes and strong spirits and placed them on the counter, whereupon the man grabbed them and said, "Give me all the money!" He stuck his hands underneath his shirt, implying there was a weapon, although none was spotted.
But Ms. F. didn't give the itsy-bitsy burglar all of the money. Instead, she screamed for help, startling the suspect so much that he fled out the door in an unknown direction. Another employee chased the escapee but failed to catch him. Police were called 10 minutes later, and the area check proved fruitless. The tiny man was gone for good, scoring $7 worth of devil juice and some $3 smokes.
MAY 13, 11 P.M.: Much like our cigar-swiping suspect, some find it safest to strike at night once all doors have been locked.
Before retiring to his quarters for a nightly dose of REM, Anto H. Jr. hauled all of his lawn maintenance equipment into a utility closet in the 1100 block of Lescot Lane, where it was locked and secured. Sweet dreams were his to be had.
At some point in the night, a lurking suspect tiptoed over to Mr. H.'s front utility closet door and pried it open with an unknown object. While the victim slumbered, the burglar stood wide-eyed in a room full of garden-taming goodies, tools too cool to resist.
Maybe he had intricate topiaries in mind, or perhaps a vision of a manicured, sprawling lawn somewhere closer to his turf. His intentions might have been grand and pure perhaps to use the equipment, then return it before daybreak, dirtied but not gone for good.
When seeping sunlight awoke Mr. H, he checked on his closeted equipment at 7 a.m., but all wasn't well. The green-thumbed burglar had dashed off into the night with one WeedEater, a leaf blower and two very pricy garden edgers, all valued at $1,560.