When a burglar broke into more than two dozen apartments in Baltimore County, it wasn't the items he took that were unusual. It was what he left behind.
Renters in Cockeysville returned home to find holes in their walls as big as 4 feet by 4 feet. The studs had been removed to allow a grown man to squeeze through from one apartment to the next — without ever unlocking the door.
Police chased reports of the so-called drywall burglar for a month before they arrested Robert White. They say they caught him taking electronics from a housing complex on Saddletop Court.
"Cutting through the drywall, that's definitely one way of doing it," said Dennis Delp, Cockeysville Precinct commander. "He was bound to be caught."
Police say White, 30, could complete a multi-unit job by breaking into a single apartment, then busting through shared walls to neighboring homes.
The only time anybody saw the Cockeysville man, police say, was as he made off with the goods. Investigators collected a physical description of the suspect, his beat-up silver car and its license plate number.
The information eventually led to 49 counts of burglary and related charges against White. His trial is scheduled to begin next month.
White could not be reached for comment for this article. Messages left for his public defender were not returned.
Nick Reese arrived at Steeplechase Apartment Homes off Cranbrook Road in May to find his door pried open. A hole in the wall led to his neighbor's place. An officer at the scene told him the burglar had most likely used a crowbar.
Missing were Reese's TVs, a laptop, $50 to $70 worth of change, an iPod and an old cellphone.
"I was so angry when it happened," Reese said. But he allowed as how the method was "kind of smart."
"He didn't have to break through two doors," Reese said. "I guess it's easier to knock a hole through two pieces of drywall."
Witnesses to the burglaries told officers they had seen an unfamiliar man, sometimes with electronics in tow, but hadn't given him much thought. One witness told police he didn't recognize the man but waved at him — and the man waved politely back.
Police got their first burglary report April 19, when a woman told officers someone had pried her front door open, punched a large hole in her living room wall and walked off with her 42-inch TV.
A witness later told police she saw a man carry a large television set away from the apartment building on Limestone Valley Drive and drive away in a gray vehicle.
Two weeks later, officers were called to nearby Gelding Drive, where someone had pried open a locked door and left a large hole in a wall.
Jason Koehler said his neighbor's door was pried open, but they both came home to a large hole in the shared wall.
"The whole wall was just dug out," he said.
Koehler said his television, laptop computer and checkbook were missing. He said an external hard drive was the most difficult to replace because it had pictures, music and other data he had downloaded. He also had to get a new checking account.
A woman who had been walking her dog told an officer she saw a man in a white T-shirt and baggy pants carrying a large flat screen TV outside Koehler's building. He put it into a beat-up silver car, she said, and even briefly spoke with her.
At Heathrow Court Apartments in Perry Hall, an off-duty Baltimore police officer noticed a man carrying a flat-screen TV. He was able to provide county police with a full description of the man, the silver two-door sedan and a license plate number.
Police say they tracked White's girlfriend's 2004 Toyota Solara to an apartment on Clover Crest Way in Cockeysville. Detectives obtained a search warrant to put a GPS unit on the car to follow it.
In May, police say, a burglary unit surveillance team followed White through several apartment complexes along Cranbrook Road, according to charging documents. Detectives say he was casing the buildings to see which apartments were occupied.
White parked outside a building on Saddletop Court, police say, and carried a bag inside. Police say he emerged with what appeared to be a laptop. He went back in, police say, carried out another computer, and then made a third trip for a 42-inch TV.
He returned to the building one more time, police say, and came back with the remotes in his pockets.
Officers then followed White across Cranbrook Road, police say, and arrested him at his girlfriend's apartment on Clover Crest Way. Police say officers found the TV remotes still in his pockets.
"I didn't take anything inside," White told officers, according to court documents.
At the last apartment officers say White visited, police found the door pried open, and a hole punched through the wall to the next unit.
Officers took White back to the Cockeysville Precinct, where police say he said he had sold the stolen goods to support a $300-a-day drug addiction, according to charging documents.
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