He was called the “doggie door bandit,” but his stealth behavior seemed more catlike than canine.
Since at least 2012, police suspect that John David Aguilar, 19, sneaked into more than two dozen homes in west and near south Fort Worth, often wiggling in through pet doors.
Sometimes, investigators say, he threw cookies, cheese or other food taken from the house onto the floor to distract the home’s dogs before hunting for jewelry, guns and other small valuables.
Several of the most recent burglaries happened in the Fairmount and Ryan Place neighborhoods, just a stone’s toss from his own garage apartment.
Central division Detective L.A. McGee attributes the suspect’s avoiding capture to that reason and several others.
“He didn’t work with anybody that we know of — he was a loner,” McGee said. “He didn’t tell anybody so nobody else ran their mouth; no girlfriend got mad and called police. He didn’t take anything big. Nobody ever saw him walking down the street with a TV. He had stuff in his pockets. He lived in the neighborhood where he was doing it so he was a familiar face. Nobody thought it was out of place, him walking up and down the street all the time.”
But despite all the bases he covered, police say, modern technology and old-fashioned hard work by a team of officers led to Aguilar’s arrest May 26.
On Thursday, Aguilar remained in the Tarrant County Jail, charged in one of the burglaries. He is also charged with evading arrest; police say he scaled several fences and even changed clothes at a garage sale in an attempt to elude officers trying to arrest him on the burglary warrant.
Detectives are preparing to file some of their strongest cases against him, specifically a handful in which he was linked to the break-ins through blood found at the scene, fingerprints or a witness picking him out of a photo lineup.
Caught on camera
Aguilar’s downfall began after surveillance cameras in one of the homes targeted in Ryan Place captured clear footage of a man peeking in through the back door before suddenly emerging inside, apparently through the doggie door.
“He tried to take the [digital video recorder] that he thought he would be recorded on but it went directly to ADT so it was safe,” McGee said.
McGee spread several still images of the video throughout the Police Department. Within days, west-side detectives contacted McGee, saying they believed that the same culprit was responsible for a string of burglaries there.
Sgt. R.S. Finch said a burglar using a similar method of entry and stealing similar items had targeted about a dozen homes, mostly in the Arlington Heights neighborhood, in the late spring and early summer of 2013.
As in the Ryan Place and Fairmount robberies, the burglar seemed to pick houses with alley access, Finch said.
Later, east-side Detective M. Chazarreta contacted McGee, saying he recognized the suspect in the photographs as Aguilar, whom he’d arrested three years earlier while working patrol.
“He said: ‘I arrested him for evading back in 2011. He had a pocket full of coins. I never could figure where they came from. I knew he had just done a burglary but I never found a victim for it,’ ” McGee said.
Around that same time, a DNA database linked Aguilar to blood found at the scene of one of the west-side burglaries.
‘Found it by accident’
Officers began conducting surveillance on Aguilar from the rooftop of a vacant business next to his garage apartment when they stumbled on stolen property that they suspect is among Aguilar’s cache of stolen goods.
“They found it by accident. I asked them to watch his house, try to catch him in the act or find out what he’s doing with the property afterward,” McGee said.
Officer Randy Molina said he and another officer had been hiding behind a rooftop air conditioner at the business, watching the back door of Aguilar’s apartment, when they noticed some backpacks.
“The bags were in a corner nearest his house, just stacked up,” Molina said.
As the officers prepared to look inside them, they noticed a rifle bag tucked behind another air conditioner. The items inside included three guns, a pair of opera glasses and a small ring.
The glasses and ring were traced to a TCU-area burglary.
‘Did their homework’
The three guns were also found to have been stolen, including a Glock 23C that officer Erica Duffield traced to a Plano man who died in 2010. Finding the obituary on Google, officers learned that he had a son living in Fort Worth.
Richard King, owner of Ellerbe Fine Foods on Magnolia Avenue, said he was confused when plainclothes investigators came to his business June 2, identifying themselves as police and holding a picture of his late father.
“They asked questions: ‘Do I own guns? What kind of guns? Have any been missing?’ ” King recalled. “I said not that I know of. I keep track of all my guns. I clean them regularly.”
King said his confusion turned to feelings of uneasiness and violation when he learned that police had found his father’s Glock, which he had believed was still stored in his bedroom. King said the suspect is believed to have entered the house through the doggie door despite the presence of two 40-pound dogs.
“I didn’t realize it was even missing,” King said. “I was just very surprised that someone was able to get into our house, take something without us even knowing.”
Within a few hours, King’s gun was back at home.
“They did their homework and did a lot of it …,” King said. “It’s a great ending to hard work.”