For five years, someone prowled rural counties in upstate New York,pilfering pearl necklaces, gold chains, bracelets, coins, silverware andother valuables from an untold number of homes.
Now authoritiesface the daunting task of finding owners of the roughly 30,000 itemsdiscovered in 31 duffel bags after John Suddard's recent arrest. Sopolice in the village of Hudson Falls, near the Vermont border, aretaking the novel step of displaying the items at the local high schoolon Wednesday night.
Burglary victims will be invited in, and anofficer will escort them around tables set up in the cafeteria to see ifany of the items are theirs.
"I'm hoping," said FrancescoVenturiello, whose Schenectady home was burglarized in May. He lost cashand roughly $75,000 worth his wife's jewelry, including irreplaceablepieces bought in Italy. "I swear to God, if we find anything in there,I'm going to have to call an ambulance. My wife will faint."
Suddard,who has served three prisons terms for burglary since he was 19, wasarrested Dec. 21 as he attempted to pawn jewelry and coins at anAlbany-area coin shop stolen the day before an hour north in HudsonFalls. He is being held in jail without bail on charges of possessingstolen property. It wasn't clear whether Suddard had a lawyer.
Suddard, 39, declined a phone interview from jail.
HudsonFalls Police Chief Randy Diamond said items recovered so far linkSuddard to 24 burglaries, though there could be many more.
Policesay the burglar's method of operation was basic: Wait until people leavetheir house, break in and search for cash and jewelry. He worked mostlyin colder months, when the sun sets earlier. He struck whether thehomeowners were gone for weeks or minutes. He kept burglar's tools and acamouflage ski mask in his car, police said.
"Seldom did heactually encounter anybody in the house," Washington County UndersheriffJohn Winchell said. "There were a couple of times when he was spooked -people showed up and he had to run out the back door. ... Generally,his crimes went unnoticed for days."
The suspect pretty much stole"anything somebody would throw in their jewelry box," Winchell said,and then some. Along with jewelry, police found cash, coins, a handgunand game tokens.
"One of the bags I went through actually had an adult molar," Winchell said, "right down to the roots."
The duffel bags were found on the property of Suddard's brother-in-law, who is cooperating with the investigation.
Policebelieve most of the items were stolen since his last release fromprison in 2007. He operated mostly in the cluster of three countiesaround Hudson Falls, though it's not clear how far Suddard traveled. Healso spent some time in other Northeastern states and in Florida.
Diamondsaid it appears that Suddard pawned the most expensive items and mayhave held on to the remaining booty to sell later. Of the itemsrecovered, a small number have inscriptions linking them to victims.
Thedisplay at Hudson Falls High School on Wednesday is for the items thatcan't be identified. The viewing is restricted to people who reported aburglary and have a police report. Victims will not be allowed to takeidentified items home just yet, because they are still potentialevidence.
Diamond said the department has been inundated withcalls from as far away as New Jersey and New Hampshire, some fromcallers missing cars, boats and other items clearly not involved in thiscase. With interest so heavy, police plan to do at least one moredisplay after Wednesday.
"We've caught this guy; we need to link him to what we can and return the property that we can," Diamond said.