Serial Austin burglar steals $42K worth of appliances from unfinished homes

Crime

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Police have arrested a man they say stole thousands of dollars worth of high-end home appliances from unfinished homes all across Austin.

Police say 33-year-old Shamurk Nkemakolam has been breaking into undeveloped homes to steal oven ranges, refrigerators and other expensive appliances, some valued at as high as $15,000.

Police were able to pin $42,349 of burglaries on Nkemakolam, but said there has been $147,860 worth of home appliance burglaries in 2019.

KXAN asked APD if burglary detectives believe other suspects are involved but haven’t been caught, but are still awaiting a response.

The homes targeted by thieves in Austin were located across the map. At least two homes were in the Travis Heights neighborhood, at least one home was in the Rollingwood neighborhood and at least two were in Northwest Hills. There were more than 15 Austin addresses listed in the arrest affidavit.

Austin police tracked the appliances’ serial numbers to catch Nkemakolam. Police documents show some oven ranges stolen from Austin homes were being sold in Connecticut by an outside retailer.

APD detectives eventually made contact with Nkemakolam and one posed as an interested buyer, according to the arrest affidavit. Nkemakolam was using an alias, “Martin,” during several negotiations with the undercover officer.

In the documents, the officer shares an example of the thoroughness of the operation:

“I felt that Martin was trying just as hard to gather intel on me as I was on him….this felt a lot like my experience working federal narcotics cases,” the detective wrote.

Nkemakolam eventually agreed to meet with the detective at a parking lot in Austin; that’s when a swarm of undercover officers swarmed to make the arrest.

Nkemakolam was booked into the Travis County Correctional Complex to face charges of theft of property. As of Monday night, he had not made bond.

How burglars do it

“I think that week that my house got hit, two other builders got their appliances stolen as well,” said Annie Kim, a builder in Austin. She is one of many builders who has been burglarized. “This has been going on for two and a half years.” 

Kim said the operation is very organized. The burglars will break into a home earlier in the day and loosen all the appliances. Later, they’ll return with a van or a truck, enter through the garage and load up the appliances, leaving within less than two minutes. 

“It’s not just in Austin, they are stealing appliances all over like San Antonio, Houston, Dallas,” Kim said. 

Chet Geist, who lives across the street from a house that was burglarized in the Rollingwood neighborhood, said he remembered when the home was under construction. 

“Everything there went just like clockwork, it never sat idle for many days,” Geist said. 

An Austinite for the past 61 years, Geist said he can see how these types of illegal operations develop with the large amount of home construction projects underway in the city. 

“It will probably be a lesson to some contractors if they heard about this that maybe they ought to be a little bit more careful if they start to put more easily removed stuff inside a house,” Geist said.

Advice for homeowners

If this happens to you or someone you know, it’s good to know the type of insurance coverage you have.

If the home is still owned by a builder and not yet sold, the builder’s insurance should cover the loss. If the home is already sold, theft should be covered under the homeowner’s policy. If it is a built-in appliance, specific dwelling coverage should take care of those as well.

Try to write down models and serial numbers, as that information can help recover your stuff, or help when filing a claim.

Tonight on KXAN News at 10, Alex Caprariello discovered surveillance video that shows a home burglary in progress.

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