Business owner’s plan catches burglar in the act

Franklin Police say the suspect who burglarized a coin shop entered the business through a hole he cut through the roof. (WAVY/Walter Hildebrand)

FRANKLIN, Va. (WAVY) – A Franklin burglar was caught in the act — but not by police.

Attorney Dan Crumpler noticed something odd when he stopped by his office Sunday afternoon. The bathroom door was locked from the inside.

“I couldn’t get in the door and there was debris down there that looked like toilet paper or insulation,” said Crumpler.

Photos: Franklin burglar caught in the act

Crumpler’s office shares the bathroom with the coin shop next door, and when he called the shop’s owner, Warren Myers, he learned about $1,000 worth of items had been stolen.

“Of course I have a motion detector,” Myers said. “[The suspect] came in crawling and he came right on through here, crawled, getting whatever he could get off the floor and this counter.”

James Thomas III
James Thomas III

Police helped Crumpler break down the bathroom door. It appeared someone had used a saw to cut a hole in the ceiling. The suspect left tools and ladders on the roof.

“We all thought, ‘this guy’s coming back,'” Crumpler said. “Because basically he’s gone through hours of work and he hasn’t really stolen much, yet.”

Crumpler called police with a plan to hire an off-duty officer to keep watch overnight. The police department and the sheriff’s office both refused. So, he phoned a friend.

“I just kind of jokingly said, ‘how much does the job pay?'” said former police officer Ronnie McClenny. He agreed to work for $35 per hour, and the job didn’t take much longer than that.

“I was actually just sitting there in the chair eating a bag of potato chips,” McClenny said, describing the moment he heard the footsteps. “Just sitting there thinking about how long a night it was going to be.”

When he heard footsteps on the roof, he immediately called 911. Police surrounded the building.

“I heard them yelling, ‘Get down! Get down! Let me see your hands!'” McClenny said.

The fire department brought a ladder to access the rooftop, where police arrested James Williams Thomas III, 29, of Branchville. And everything worked according to Crumpler’s plan.

Thomas is charged with attempted breaking and entering, possession of burglary tools and trespassing. He is being held without bond at Western Tidewater Regional Jail.

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