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'Movie Bandits' Victim: 'We Were Lucky'

Debbie Van Wieringen says she and her husband feel like they are among the more fortunate of the 50 or so Eastside families who were hit by the so-called movie bandits earlier this year.

Police didn't mince words when they responded to a car prowl at Redmond's  this spring and discovered the owners' registration documents were missing from the glove department.

“Right away they said, 'We’re sorry, but your house has probably been broken into,'” said Debbie Van Wieringen, whose home was one of dozens in the Seattle area hit by the so-called Movie Bandits.

Last month, Redmond Police arrested two suspects they say are responsible for more than 30 burglaries around the Puget Sound area. In most of the incidents, the thieves .

Many victims, like the Van Wieringens, were targeted at movie theaters. Others were hit at restaurants and shopping centers, including .

A long drive

It's about a 15-minute drive from Bella Bottega to Debbie Van Wieringen's home in the Trilogy housing development, located in unincorporated King County. 

As she and her husband drove home from the movie, Van Wieringen says they already knew their home had been broken into. Her thoughts turned to valuables her grown son was storing at their house. She also grew concerned about her wedding ring and another cherished ring that she kept hidden when she wasn't wearing them.

“The whole way home, I was just praying that they didn’t find my rings,” she said.

The Van Wieringens arrived home to find King County Sheriff's deputies already dusting their bedroom for fingerprints. Although they lost about $4,000 in jewelry and watches, Van Wieringen says many of their valuables, including laptops and other electronics, were not stolen.

Her rings were left untouched in their hiding place.

Van Wieringen believes the thieves were "spooked" for some reason and left their house earlier than planned. Despite the lost jewelry—and a shattered glass door that cost $2,000 to replace—Van Wieringen said she and her husband "were lucky and didn’t have as many things stolen” as other victims.

'They were stealing everything'

Redmond Police are now going through the long task of reuniting victims with their stolen property. Their list includes housands of items, ranging from expected things like TVs and silverware to less conventional items such as a first aid kit, Christmas ornaments and even a sink.

“They were stealing everything,” police spokesman Jim Bove said.

The list of affected individuals is also long—and continuing to grow. Immediately after Redmond Police announced the arrest earlier this week, investigators attributed five cases from the King County Sheriff's Office to the same suspects. 

In the first 24 hours after the announcement, Bove said the department received 30 calls from other agencies and potential victims. Investigators are still determining which of those cases are related, but “it sounded like a lot of them are connected,” Bove said.

Meanwhile, police and prosecutors are continuing to build their case against the two suspects as more evidence comes in. The male suspect, who Bove said has a significant criminal record, remains in King County Jail in lieu of $225,275 bail. The female suspect, who has little to no prior record, has been released.

Patch generally does not name suspects before they are charged with crimes. The Seattle Times has named the male suspect although he has not been charged in this case.

Prevention tips

Life for the Van Wieringens has mostly returned to normal. The glass door the thieves shattered to gain entry to their home was finally replaced, after the family had to spend five months waiting for a door to be specially made because the model had been discontinued.

One thing that remains changed is the Van Wieringens no longer keep their vehicle registration in their glove box. Anything containing their address is hidden elsewhere in the vehicle or kept at home.

Despite the arrests, Bove said police are continuing to advise people to either keep their documents elsewhere in their car or on their person. The same goes for garage door openers, several of which were also stolen in the Movie Bandits cases and used to gain quick access to the victims' homes, Bove said.

“We hope people still practice safe habits," Bove said. "We don’t want people to be paranoid, but we do want them to be safe.”

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Redmond Police are asking those who believe they might be victims to visit this webpage for information on reporting the crime and identifying stolen property. 

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