- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002

SUSSEX, Va. (AP) Intruders with a discerning eye for antiquities are hauling off Civil War-vintage swords and antique furniture from farmhouses in Virginia's rural Southside, area sheriffs say.
The savvy burglars find empty homes, then disable telephone lines and alarm systems, sort through the homes' interiors and leave with only most valuable possessions.
In one recent burglary, the thieves made off with antique rifles, leaving behind a less valuable weapon.
"They definitely seem to know what they're looking for," said Sussex County Sheriff Stuart Kitchen.
Sheriff Kitchen said his county has seen six of these burglaries within the past 18 months. The stolen items have included old guns and swords, coins and antique desks and other furniture, such as corner cupboards. The burglars would need at least a pickup truck, and perhaps a moving van, to take their haul away.
"Basically, the key is rural," Sheriff Kitchen said, meaning isolated homes tend to be targeted.
Investigators from Southampton and Dinwiddie counties are comparing notes, and counties as far north as Henrico and Hanover have also recorded similar burglaries, the sheriff said.
Roughly 20 such burglaries have occurred in Sussex, Southampton and Dinwiddie counties in the past year, authorities said. No arrests have been made, and none of the stolen antiques has been recovered.
Because some of the homes are not regularly occupied, some of the thefts have gone unnoticed for days or even weeks, Southampton Sheriff Vernie W. Francis Jr. said.
Some homes had been left vacant when the owners died or took ill. Other homes had been used by families solely for vacations.
Dinwiddie Sheriff Samuel H. Shands said owners should take steps to make the home look inhabited, such as cutting grass.
In Buckingham County west of Richmond, thieves using virtually the same modus operandi cleaned out four farmhouses in 2000, said David Ragland, a county sheriff's detective.
He said he believes the thieves entered the homes in daylight, chose and assembled the items they wanted, then returned at night with trucks.
Late that year, the sheriff's office found some of the stolen antiques in Powhatan County and traced them back through seven rapid resales to a 49-year-old, unemployed Richmond man, Detective Ragland said.
The man was convicted last month of grand theft and breaking and entering and is awaiting sentencing. The jury recommended a six-year prison term.


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