Athletic cat burglar leaps into Durban legend with stealthy raids on sleeping apartment residents

2013-11-28 00:00

HE vaults over security gates like the free-running villain from James Bond.

He swings between third-storey balconies on Durban’s Berea and calmly sifts through residents’ things while they sleep.

But this week, residents of Glenwood and Morningside declared war on the “Glenwood cat burglar”, who has been linked to at least a dozen non-violent burglaries of third- and fourth-storey apartments this year.

This followed a public appeal for vigilance and security at a meeting in Berea on Tuesday night — including the release of an FBI-style profile — and angry complaints that “people who live above the second floor in Durban should not be forced to install security doors even on their balconies”.

But the legend of the young criminal athlete is growing fast through a combination of anger, jaw-dropping stories and grudging respect.

The Witness has established that, last Sunday, multiple Comrades marathon winner Helen Lucre was one of three residents who were robbed as they slept in apartments on the third floor of a block of flats in Morningside — and left to wonder at an “astonishing escape”.

Lucre, who has managed national athletics teams, told The Witness the man had skills similar to “parkour” — the free-running art popularised in the Bond movie Casino Royale. The Comrades icon said the burglar “appeared cornered” by two armed response security guards and a resident — “but, totally calm, he somehow leapt onto the roof of the garage, and then leapt over a two-metre gap and a neighbour’s electric fence; running like there were no obstacles. Unbelievable, no one could catch him.”

But she added: “It is also very troubling. He was in my bedroom and I had no clue he was there.”

At the inaugural meeting of the Save Our Berea campaign on Tuesday night, over 350 residents heard a public call to guard against the cat burglar, with many sharing experiences of what they believed was the same thief.

An amateur criminal profile distributed at the meeting warned that the man (a young, black male, early to mid-twenties) was “not afraid of heights … [or] ADT guards”, “vaults gates [he left his shoes behind in Charles Grove]”, and “has returned to steal from the same person twice”.

Although the profile described his usual clothing as “dark-blue T-shirt and long black pants”, other residents said they believed he was the man often seen scaling walls in a black wet suit, before bounding away.

Residents told how the burglar only removed light items (like cash, jewellery and iPads), while discarding both heavy objects, which might hinder his running, and items like credit cards, which could link him to victims.

Lucre said he had ignored her car keys, branded sunglasses and even a €50 note. Lucre this week spent over R40 000 on exterior security panels.

Another victim, Ronel Perks, a music teacher at Durban Girls’ College, said she had identified a list of burglaries that she and fellow victims believe were carried out by the same cat burglar — “because they have the same modus operandi, the same amazing skill; similar things left behind and the same calling card, which is windows or sliding doors left ajar”.

She said his targets have included houses in Charles Grove, at Montreal flats in Bulwer, and apartments at the corner of McDonald and Chelmsford roads. In the past month alone, Perks said the elusive thief had stuck at Bemersyde Court, Glenwood, Nordbury in Marriott Road, and Ridgegrove on October 27, in which he scaled five storeys to gain entry.

Perks said she was very disappointed with police response to the thefts. “Of course, we are fascinated by how daring he is, but this man must be caught, urgently. He is causing terror. People who used to feel safe in upper storeys are now locking themselves in their flats,” she said. “Just because he doesn’t seem to have been violent to date doesn’t mean he won’t be violent in future.”

Perks said she had used marks left in the dust on the exterior of her building to track the burglar’s movements, after he robbed her last month. “You could see from the body marks where he had somehow swung from the balcony to a ledge on the next level.”

Feats attributed to the Glenwood cat burglar also include:

• On October 27, he burgled a fifth floor apartment at Ridgegrove, before dropping to the third floor, where he gained access to another apartment via a window that, ironically, had been left open for cats. Perks said he stole a laptop and wallets, “but ignored other valuables”.

• On November 17, he used a drainpipe and ledges less than eight centimetres wide to access third- floor apartments at Bemersyde at around 5 am. The man was later seen sorting through his loot on the lawn below and, when approached, he ran to the rear of the property and vaulted a “seven- foot fence topped with razor wire”.

• Witness writer Steven Coan said he had yelled at an intruder dressed in a wet suit at his residential complex near Entabeni Hospital, late at night, and that the man had simply jumped off a patio almost three metres high to escape — apparently using the branches of a bush to slow his descent.

• On at least two occasions, the burglar reportedly spoke politely when confronted. Once, telling a resident “don’t worry, I won’t harm you”, and, on another occasion, when ordered to drop his bag of loot by ADT security guards, he replied: “No, I won’t” before bolting.

However, Craig McLachlan, a member of Glenwood Community Watch, said he believed the burglar was likely a member of a gang of four skilled housebreakers. “We have information that guys helped each other get onto the ledges at Ridgegrove,” he said.

Spokespeople for the SAPS did not respond to questions at the time of going to press.

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