RAVENNA, Ohio - Investigators from 13 different communities in six counties across Northeast Ohio have been comparing notes, trying to catch elusive thieves believed to have broken into as many as fifty different homes for months.
Detectives said the thieves knocked on doors and if there was an answer, they would say they are looking for a missing dog. If there was no answer, they break in through the back door or window of the home.
"Any type of entry they can make, whether they have to shatter the door, pry the windows open, they are going in one way or another. Then once they are in, what they are doing is very similar to what they are doing all over the different counties, different jurisdictions," said Portage County Det. Robert James.
Authorities in Portage County said they had perhaps the best lead to date: a home video of a break-in from June 5, where the thief is seen entering the home through a back door and going upstairs.
About 4 and a half minutes later, he is seen at the front door using a walkie-talkie to radio an accomplice that he is ready to be picked up.
"In several instances, we had money laying out on the counter and they walked right past it and didn't even take the money. Expensive electronics, expensive items are laying around the house. They would just walk right past them. They went strictly for jewelry," James said.
Detectives from Copley, Brecksville, Bainbridge, Youngstown, Lakewood, Independence, Macedonia, Twinsburg, Solon, North Royalton, Medina, Avon and Geauga County had been working, hoping for a big break that would help them identify the thieves.
The break came when a woman from Macedonia said she believes the same two men showed up at her home while she was there.
"Two really loud, forceful knocks on the door that are startling to start with because nobody knocks this way," said the homeowner, who we agreed not to identify.
The woman said she looked through a window and did not recognize the man at her door or the vehicle, so she did not answer the door.
That's when she saw the man go to the back of their pickup truck, put on a hat and a hoodie, then return to the house while the truck was backing out of the driveway.
"That was the moment I knew this is not anything else, but possibly a burglary about to happen," she told Fox 8 News.
The woman said she had her husband on the phone when she made sure the visitor knew she was there.
In familiar fashion, he told her he was looking for a lost dog, then went back to the truck which was already backing out of the driveway and had to stop to let him in.
The woman used her phone to take four photos of the truck, which police later found in the area.
Macedonia police arrested Steven Blazo, 54 of Youngstown and charged him with one count of conspiracy to commit burglary. His accomplice, Robert Duarte, 54, also of Youngstown, is believed to be the man in the home video from Portage County.
Investigators there said Duarte's height matches that of the tall man seen in the home surveillance video and at the time of his arrest, he was wearing the same shoes seen in the video.
Detective James said authorities also confiscated radios at the time of their arrest.
Duarte was being held in the Portage County Jail on charges related to four break-ins there, but the list of charges against both men is expected to grow dramatically.
Authorities, meanwhile, are urging homeowners to make sure visitors know someone is at home, if you hear a knock at the door.
"It's actually better we have learned to make your presence known. I'm not saying you have to answer the door. I'm not saying you have to address the situation and walk outside. Even if you have got to crack a window and yell something make your presence known. Obviously, that will deter them. For some people, that deters them right away, if they know someone is at home they are going to leave," James said.