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Courtesy of Tony Hecht

A custom-built guitar given as a birthday present to Marlboro resident Tony Hecht was one of the items taken in an Aug. 25 burglary at his home. It’s one of a string of recent Marlboro burglaries being investigated by Vermont State Police.

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Marlboro burglaries cause worry

Rash of break-ins prompts investigation, discussion

MARLBORO—Tony Hecht lost two valuable guitars, one of which was a custom-built birthday present.

Brian Whitehouse is missing an iPad and a weed trimmer.

And they’re not the only Marlboro residents to have had valuables swiped during a recent string of burglaries. Thieves have pilfered musical instruments, electronics, jewelry, and even a safe — all during daylight hours.

Selectboard members plan to discuss the matter during a meeting scheduled for Sept. 8. And Vermont State Police are investigating and asking residents to keep an eye out.

“Really, what it comes down to is communicating with your neighbors — really being alert to what is going on in your neighborhood,” said state police Sgt. Chris Buckley.

Burglaries are fairly common in rural Vermont, and Windham County is no exception. Over the past three months, state police have issued at least 11 burglary reports for the county — one of which involved “several” incidents on a road in Jamaica and Stratton.

Putney is one of the towns appearing most frequently on that list. One incident in particular — an August burglary at Putney Central School, for which two teens were later charged — attracted media attention.

But some in Marlboro have been rattled by the frequency with which their town has popped up in police dispatches. State police reported investigating three Marlboro burglaries that occurred in the last week of August, with several other break-ins happening in June and July.

Daytime intrusions

Each of the recent burglaries happened during the day while no one was home — though, in one case, a resident reported finding a green Honda Civic in his driveway when he returned to his house on Higley Hill Road. The car drove off, and items missing from the house included a Sentry safe, police said.

Hecht’s home was hit Aug. 25. He returned from work to find that “the whole house was gone through. Stuff was left here that could have been taken.”

The thief or thieves focused on two guitars prized by Hecht both for their financial and sentimental value. One guitar is a 1990 Fender Stratocaster Ultra, while the other “was made by a really good friend of mine and given to me on my 50th birthday.”

On Aug. 31, it was Whitehouse’s turn. Sometime during the day, someone swiped an iPad from inside his home and a weed trimmer from outside.

“We could see where they had rooted through stuff. We could see that they hadn’t rooted through everything,” Whitehouse said. “They came in with a very clear agenda and executed that very clear agenda.”

Buckley, who is based at the Westminster barracks, did not say whether investigators believe the Marlboro incidents could be linked. He also said the number of burglaries in the town this summer isn’t unprecedented in this area.

“There are a few pockets where burglaries are popping up,” Buckley said. “We have been doing direct patrols in those areas, and there are some leads that are being followed up.”

As for whether the break-ins might be drug-related, Buckley said he couldn’t speculate — but he noted that the state’s opiate-addiction problem has been “well-publicized.” Addiction often leads to burglaries and other crimes.

Stolen instruments

One unique theme in some of Marlboro’s burglaries appears to be musical instruments: In addition to Hecht’s guitars, residents say a violin also has been stolen.

“That seems to be specialized,” Buckley said. “It doesn’t seem to link up with other incidents.”

Buckley offered some basic tips for Marlboro residents, including locking all doors and not leaving valuables in plain sight. Also, he said, residents who are leaving for any extended period of time should talk to their neighbors and “ask them to keep an eye on your place.”

His strongest recommendation, though, is for homeowners to install game cameras on their properties. Those cameras are small and can be relatively inexpensive, but Buckley said they are “amazingly helpful” in burglary investigations.

From images captured by game cameras, police can discern a suspect’s face, a type of vehicle, and sometimes even a vehicle’s registration. “A strategically placed game camera is worth its weight in gold,” Buckley said. “It gives us a jumping-off point.”

Beyond hoping for the arrest of whoever broke into their homes, both Hecht and Whitehouse are hoping Marlboro residents can find ways to help prevent further burglaries.

One solution might be a neighborhood watch group, though Marlboro has a population of 1,078 spread over more than 40 square miles. “Whoever it is that has perpetrated this type of behavior has figured out that communities like Marlboro and Dummerston don’t have a good defense,” Whitehouse said.

No clear answers

He warned against making any assumptions about who is breaking into houses and which residents are likely to be victims. Whitehouse’s home, for example, is in the village with other residences nearby, while other burglarized homes have been more isolated.

“Is this a predictable behavior that we can work around?” Whitehouse asked. “Even if it’s not, we’re going to have to come up with some sort of community-appropriate, culturally sensitive way of dealing with it.”

It’s not clear what action the town can take. Marlboro relies mainly on state police protection and has a small supplemental contract with the Windham County Sheriff’s Department, which has committed to 11 patrol hours a month in the town.

Marlboro Selectboard Chairman Tyler Gibbons said board members expect to talk about the burglaries at their Sept. 8 meeting. The agenda will allow time to hear from residents on the issue at 6 p.m.

Because the burglaries are so recent, it will be the first time town officials have had a chance to discuss the matter.

“We’re just catching up on that,” Gibbons said. “We have been contacted by a number of residents.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #373 (Wednesday, September 7, 2016). This story appeared on page A1.

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