Location Of Theft in AQUA BLUE
URL Of Linked Article In STEEL BLUE or GREEN
Full Content Of Article In BLACK
Theft Description In Body Of Article in RED

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


Helmsman burglar busted

Computers recovered, former U of M employee charged

Issue date: 11/9/10 Section: News
An industrial-sized trash can, a doormat and an unlocked door allowed a recently fired University of Memphis employee to steal nine computers from The Daily Helmsman on the Friday night before fall break, according to U of M Police Services.

Matthew Burson, 30, was charged last week with one felony count of burglarizing the Edward J. Meeman Journalism Building on Oct. 15. Stolen from two rooms in the heist were nine computers, a photography lighting kit and a camcorder, collectively valued at $12,000. Police have recovered all but one of the stolen items - one newer-model, silver iMac - from individuals in the Nutbush, Berclair and Orange Mound areas. 

After initially denying the theft, Burson gave a full, written confession of the crime to campus police before he was arrested Nov. 3. He is now out of custody, having posted the $3,000 bond within 24 hours after his arraignment, and is due back in court Nov. 30. 

Kevin Langellier, coordinator of special programs for Police Services, said officials believe the confession is "reasonably accurate." 

"A lot of the things he said checked out, and we talked to a lot of other people," he said.

A temporary worker with The U of M's Physical Plant for several months, Burson was fired the afternoon of Oct. 15 and returned that night "mad about being fired" and "looking to steal something," Langellier said. 

He said Burson first attempted to loot the Psychology Building. Finding it locked, he crossed Veterans Avenue and entered the Edward J. Meeman Journalism Building through the front door, held ajar by a doormat that had been pulled into the entryway, and began searching for unlocked doors.

"He found the door open, and after that, he said he just started jiggling door handles," Langellier said.

Helmsman editors locked the newsroom and set the alarm when they left Thursday night before the long holiday weekend, as Friday is not one of the paper's production days. However, because a substitute housekeeping employee the next morning was unfamiliar with the usual procedure, the newsroom was left unlocked with its system disarmed, and remained so all weekend.
Burson told police he took several computers, placed them in a large trash can and checked to make sure no one was around. 

After Burson mistakenly carried the wrong bin, one full of garbage, to his car parked on Veterans in front of the building, he returned to the newsroom and brought the decoy container to the curb, his confession states.

Burson told officers he was able to get his car, a Ford Taurus, past the gate at Veterans and State by hopping the curb, an idea he said got when he watched a truck deliver copies of The Daily Helmsman early in the morning before couriers distributed them across the campus.

Brady Buller, production supervisor for Signature Offset, the company that prints and delivers The Helmsman, said it's against company policy for a driver to steer around a gate.

"If someone was doing that, we weren't aware of it, and they would be fired if they were doing it," he said. "Who knows what this criminal is coming up with … using us as an easy scapegoat."

Buller added that his drivers have never reported trouble reaching someone at Police Services to open the gate.

Bob Willis, instructor and advertising manager for The Daily Helmsman, spoke with the paper's courier, who meets the delivery truck every morning between 5:30 and 6:15 a.m.

"He's never observed the delivery truck doing that," Willis said.

Daily Helmsman staffers weren't aware of the theft until they returned from fall break Oct. 20, when they reported the crime. 

Langellier said the extended time period between when the crime occurred and when it was reported made the investigation more difficult.

"It was a lot of leg work," he said. "The biggest problem was that we were behind the curve so long. We got the report Wednesday, and we weren't really able to do anything until Thursday. So for six days, the computers had been out circulating."

Monday, Oct. 18, two days before The Helmsman contacted Police Services about the heist, the investigation's lead detective, Sammie Ballard, received a tip that University computers were being peddled on the street.
From that tip, police were able to learn that someone named "Matt" was selling the computers. They also obtained information about where the suspect lived and what car he drove, along with the name of a business that purchased one of the contraband computers. Ballard and Langellier then located the vehicle used in the burglary, ran its license plate and discovered it belonged to Burson. 

Further research led to their discovering Burson's employment at The U of M, the "connection" they said they were looking for.

"We felt somebody didn't just drive by The University and stop in and commit this burglary," Langellier said. "We felt from the very beginning that it was someone who had some consciousness of the layout here."

Langellier said the stolen goods "were spread all over heck." The lighting kit, camcorder and one computer were recovered from a residence north of the Nutbush area, at Jackson and Wales. With the help of the Memphis Police Department, campus police recovered five more computers in Orange Mound and the final two near Summer and Berclair, though one has not been located.

At the time of the thefts, no security cameras were pointed at doors inside or outside the journalism building. Langellier said it's likely cameras will be placed in these areas.

The propped door in Meeman was a primary factor in making the burglary possible, he explained. He said doors left open overnight are a "chronic problem on campus."

"With the kind of hours that faculty and students keep, it's common for them to be in buildings after hours (for legitimate purposes)," he said. 

Though the practice is common, Langellier said that carelessness could unintentionally create security concerns.

"I feel confident people aren't doing it so burglaries can occur," he said. "They're doing it out of convenience. They're in there studying or doing something, but they don't have keys themselves, and they're going to go have a cigarette or run to the car or something like that. So they prop the door open and forget when they leave. It's people thinking of their own convenience rather than the safety of all."

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