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The Walker Avenue Bandit

by Brian Clarey

 

Will Henry doesn’t really want to talk about it. The owner of Wahoo’s bar on Greensboro’s most infamous corner doesn’t think it’s particularly good publicity that his business was the first to get hit in a months-long crime spree of commercial break-ins that has plagued the corner of Walker Avenue and Elam Avenue since early March.

“Yeah, I got hit first,” he says. “The guy busted a hole in the wall of my place. He vandalized all the machines — cigarettes, the vending machines. He tried to break into the safe too.”

It happened the morning of March 9, a Tuesday, at around 5 a.m., according to the incident report, just before dawn — the quietest hour of the day in this cozy little entertainment district.

“There’s nobody around,” Henry says. “I would assume somebody’s got a good bead on the traffic.”

Less than two weeks later, a similar incident befell Walker’s Bar next door. This time the break-in came from above, through a ceiling duct. The perp lowered himself down, hit the vending machines and made an attempt on the safe.

“He dragged a 500-pound safe out of Walker’s and dragged it back into the alley and tried to open it,” Henry says. “He’s not a safecracker — he just beat the hell out of it.”

Henry also sees something of a learning curve at work. “When he broke into mine, he just completely destroyed [the vending machines],” he says. “When he hit Walker’s he knew exactly what to do.”

Things were quiet on Walker Avenue — as quiet as they get on Walker Avenue, anyway — for a month. Then on the morning of April 23, Suds N Duds got hit, followed three days later by a heist at Fishbone’s. Neil Reitzel, owner of Fishbone’s, tells me about it while suffering an allergy attack on his front porch around the corner from his business.

This time the attack came from the back door, the lock of which, Reitzel says, was picked.

Reitzel says he captured footage of the burglar on his video security system, which showed his methodology but little else.

“He keeps a hoodie on,” Reitzel says. “He knows where the cameras are and you could never see his face. He has a flashlight but he uses it pretty sparingly. And if you look at the timing — he came in about 30 seconds after the cleaning lady left.

“I would say he’s definitely been in the bars before.” The Fishbone’s caper left another few clues: As the criminal absconded from the restaurant, a neighbor on Elam Avenue saw him pushing a bus cart down the sidewalk loaded with Reitzel’s safe, a cash drawer from the register and a case of Red Bull energy drink.

“It was about 5:45 a.m.,” the neighbor, who requested anonymity, says. He described the perp as a white guy in a hoodie, about 5-foot-10 with a scruffy goatee, an angular face and “very, very skinny.” And as he approached the perp, the neighbor says, the guy took off down the street with the cart. He ran back into his house to call the cops, but when he got back outside, he says, the guy was gone.

“Nothing added up,” the neighbor says. “He couldn’t have disappeared with that safe. Somebody had to help him. Where did that safe go?” The next hit came almost two weeks later, a second attempt at Suds N Duds on May 7. Followed by two home invasions on May 10 and 11 at adjoining homes on Walker Avenue. As of press time, there have been no more invasions — and no more leads.

Sgt. LD Thompson, supervisor of the Greensboro Police Department’s commercial property crimes unit, says his unit is on top of the case, though he is unable to share much in the way of information in an ongoing investigation.

“We are in the process of looking at it and seeing what we can do to bring some type of relief to the folks in that community,” he says. “I’m hoping we’ll get something soon and bring some type of conclusion to this.”

“The cops are doing a great job,” Henry says. “I see them out here in the mornings looking for him. But this guy is slippery as an eel.”

“They come in all sizes and degrees of intelligence,” Sgt. Thompson says. “You got some that are very gifted and some that are very lucky. This guy… I really don’t know at this point — maybe a little of both.”

Reitzel, for one, hopes they nab this guy before he hits Sticks & Stones, his other business on Walker Avenue.

“His luck’s gotta run out,” he says. Anyone with information about the break-ins on Walker Avenue should call CrimeStoppers at 336.373.1000. According to the GPD CrimeStoppers web page, “If an arrest is made or property or drugs recovered, the caller becomes eligible for a cash reward of up to $2,000. All reward money is raised by a civilian board of directors. No tax dollars are used.”

Also, if you can help catch this guy, I imagine there will be a couple rounds of drinks coming your way.

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