The masked man who kept state police at bay and business owners on edge while breaking into as many as 36 businesses in the past 2 1/2 months was caught Thursday night.
State police in Somerset raided a trailer home in Friedens and arrested 22-year-old Roy Thomas Penrose III.
Troopers seized prescription drugs, money, lottery tickets, a handgun, tools and other items stolen from businesses in Somerset and Westmoreland counties since August.
They also found 115 packs of heroin.
Authorities said Penrose targeted businesses, breaking in through windows, doors and roofs and in one case tunneling in from the outside.
So far, Penrose is charged with one of the break-ins, the Sept. 21 burglary at Blanset Hardware in Stoystown. Charges in the remaining crimes are expected to be filed in the coming weeks, authorities said.
“There were an incredible number of break-ins during a short period of time,” Somerset County District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser said.
As weeks passed, concern grew that Penrose might start robbing homes.
“I started to develop a fear the longer this went the bolder he might get and start entering homes,” she said.
The brazen thief, fueled by drug addiction, kept the business community on edge, sometimes breaking into multiple buildings on a single night.
“We did get feedback from some of the businesses,” Cpl. William Link said. “They were nervous and, of course, concerned.”
Investigators carefully examined surveillance footage, conducted interviews, examined foot tracks and did everying they could to identify the suspect who always kept his face hidden behind a bandana.
“It was frustrating that we had surveillance video and it took as long as it did to identify the actor,” Link said.
Investigators say Penrose broke into restaurants, gas stations and other business, some along Route 30 near Jenners-town and as far south as Rockwood.
Penrose was determined to get inside a Westmoreland County restaurant on state Route 31, even if he had to dig a tunnel.
“He actually broke a hole in the foundation and tunneled through the floor,” Sgt. Greg Keefer said.
It was a tip to the Crime Stoppers hotline that led investigators to Penrose.
Armed with a search warrant, state police flocked to a trailer home in the 100 block of Martin Drive. They found Penrose, the stolen goods and about $1,700 in heroin.
He was arraigned by on-call District Judge Douglas Bell of Meyersdale and sent to the Somerset County Jail in lieu of $75,000 bond.
Investigators believe Penrose worked alone. Though the investigation is continuing, authorities expressed relief Penrose is behind bars.
“I’m smiling,” Keefer said. “I don’t smile much.”
Ralph Blanset has owned Blanset Hardware in Stoystown for 30 years, and it was the first time the business was burglarized.
The thief made off with a safe filled with lottery tickets, he said. The business has taken steps to guard against future break-ins, but Blanset said he can’t afford high-tech security.
“All we can do is just hope it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
Patrick Buchnowski is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on twitter.com/PatBuchnowskiTD.