When Fred got home from work that day he went straight to the refrigerator, like he always does. As he passed through the house from the garage, he noticed the french doors open at the back, which was strange. He though maybe he’d forgotten to close when he left in a hurry that morning.
It was when Fred pulled open the door of the fridge that he instantly knew something was wrong. “There was no beer in the refrigerator.” Fred called the cops. “My house was broken into.” Escondido police documented the missing cash, credit cards, watches, and electronics that Fred reported stolen that day in December 2012.
Two months later, police phoned Fred to check if a young man they were questioning had permission to have his credit cards in his wallet. Fred said no.
Twenty-one-year-old Wyatt Taylor Johnson was soon charged with eight first-degree burglaries.
“My dog was kinda jumpy.”
Fred lived on a street called Cathedral Glen, on the western edge of Escondido. Police say there was a sudden increase in burglaries in that part of Escondido during the months of October, November, and December of 2012.
During that time, just a few blocks from Fred’s home, a woman returned to her home on Angeles Glen. She noticed “my dog was kinda jumpy.” Next she noticed that her laptop computer was missing from the downstairs table. Nancy worked in real estate and she kept her client lists on that computer. She hurried upstairs and found that her jewelry and coins and camera were all taken. Her handgun was missing.
Another home on Angeles Glen was burglarized. Juliette, the resident, said she drove up and her ten-year-old son jumped out of the car and ran to the side of their home; the boy was taking his empty soda can to the recycling bin. He was surprised to see a man in the backyard. The boy told police the man wore all black, had a “monkey hat” on, and ran away through the backyard and escaped over a fence. Juliette reported $20,000 worth of items stolen.
On Pointer Glen, a man named Lucian reported more than $15,000 worth of items taken from his home. His missing property included gold coins, jewelry, cash, and electronics.
On Bobcat Glen, a man reported his iPad, camera, and jewelry missing.
Police investigators said the burglar gained entry into every home through an unsecured door or window in the back, including one small bathroom window that had been left open.
Investigators first got the name Wyatt Johnson when police in Carlsbad pulled over a car with stolen computers and jewelry in the trunk. The driver claimed he had dropped off Wyatt Johnson, the guy who actually committed the burglaries. The driver said Johnson pawned or sold the burgled goods and he only got a little gasoline money out of the deal. (That man is being prosecuted separately.)
Later, Johnson told police that he had lived in Carlsbad for a time, and he was familiar with certain streets there. Eventually, Johnson was charged with burglarizing two homes in Carlsbad.
Carlsbad police detective Dzung Luc said he ran the name Wyatt Johnson through a database linked to pawn shops. The detective got a printout of “six or seven pages” of pawn transactions connected to that name, he said.
Instant cash loans
There is a chain of pawn stores around San Diego County called Gems N’ Loans. They have stores in Temecula, Oceanside, Vista, and Escondido.
On their website, Gems N’ Loans advertises: “We offer instant cash loans…. No credit check — no hassles…. All transactions are confidential, and once you are a customer, we will treat you like family. If you are in a bind or just want to cash in your unwanted merchandise, we are here for you.”
Adelaine Arroyo used to work at the Gems N’ Loans store in Escondido. She testified at a hearing for defendant Johnson in July 2013. She recognized Johnson seated in the courtroom. “He sold jewelry to us.” She remembered he came into their shop “during the holidays” in 2012. He had “nice pieces of jewelry,” crafted of 18 and 22 karat gold. Adelaine checked his photo ID and got his signature and thumb print, their usual routine.
Investigators contacted Arroyo and reviewed surveillance video from the pawn shop with her. Together they documented at least two transactions with Johnson: one on December 26 and one on January 28. A particular gold coin was traced to a home burglary on Pointer Glen in Escondido, according to police.
Robbing Grandma’s neighbors
Johnson was brought to police headquarters in Escondido on February 20, 2013 to be interviewed.
Police say Johnson told them that he was staying at his grandmother’s home in Escondido in late 2012. He said that at least some of the homes he burgled were visible from his grandma’s house, according to Escondido police sergeant Bode Berreth.
Johnson described going into a home on Angeles Glen where a friendly dog greeted him. He said the dog followed him around while he went through the house choosing which items to steal. After awhile, Johnson put the dog into a room and closed the door; he let the dog out when he was “done,” sergeant Berreth said.
Johnson recalled another home on Angeles Glen for police. Johnson said he was walking down the street when he saw a family drive away from their home. When he went into their home he left the sliding-glass doors in the back of the home wide open, in case he had to hurry out. Sure enough, he heard the car return and he rushed out, but a quick little boy was able to catch sight of him.
Berreth said the suspect made incriminating statements the same day he was arrested, February 20, 2013.
Five months later, at a court hearing, four people testified about the burglaries of their homes. Johnson is charged with eight burglaries — two in Carlsbad and six in Escondido. Each first-degree burglary counts as a strike, according to a prosecutor.
“It is beneficial for the victims to appear in court,” said prosecutor David Uyar. He believes it’s important for citizens to see that their cases are not forgotten and that the system is working.
Johnson is charged with 11 other felonies related to pawning and possession of stolen property. At a court hearing, San Diego Superior Court judge Richard Mills noted that Johnson has two prior misdemeanor theft convictions and was on probation at the time of the new crimes.
Johnson made a plea deal on September 9, 2013: he admitted four counts of first-degree felony burglary and expects to get four years prison when he is sentenced on November 18.