On Christmas Day, officers from the Auburn (Wash.) Police Department responded to a potential burglary at the Haggen Northwest Fresh Market. The cops discovered rope, clothing, gloves, and tools, and determined that someone had climbed into—and presumably out of—the supermarket through a vent in the ceiling.
But by mid-January, employees had started to report hearing footsteps overhead. One worker even saw a man's legs dangling from the ceiling of a storage closet, but when the officers came back to the store, they couldn't find him. They were at the store for three straight days, working with members of the K-9 unit, and with heat-mapping technology but they came up with nothing and nobody.
"We found where someone had been,” Auburn Police Commander Mike Hirman told KING5 News. "There’s ventilation that had been moved and tracks that had been moved. We spent probably about 4.5 hours up in the rafters trying to hunt this guy down.”
Almost a month after that first Christmas day investigation, the man finally made an appearance on the store's surveillance cameras. In the footage, he's dressed all in black, wearing black gloves, and a black face mask, and carrying a giant bag filled with thousands of dollars' worth of stolen cigarettes.
The man remained a total mystery until this week, when a resident called the cops with a tip about the nicotine-craving vent crawler. Police officers paid a visit to his home in south Auburn—he wasn't living in the supermarket after all—and arrested him on Wednesday.
A search of the as-yet-unidentified man's residence turned up more than $8,000 in stolen merchandise, including expensive bottles of booze, Marlboro and Salem cigarettes, and a 17-pound wheel of artisan cheese that was still marked with its $395 price tag. (The cheese could not be returned to the store; it was photographed as evidence, and then donated to a local food bank.)
KING5 reports that the man had a background in the roofing and construction industries, which explains how he was able to deftly slip into and out of the store without getting caught. (His frequent trips through the ceiling did cause an estimated $13,000 worth of damage to the store, though.) He is facing "multiple charges" for burglary and theft but, as of this writing, he has not been formally charged.
The Auburn Police Department announced his arrest in a Facebook post, and it praised the Property Crimes officers who "relentlessly pursued" all of the leads that came in during the past few weeks.
Although this person's arrest is great news for the Haggen Northwest Fresh Market, it's still slightly disappointing that it didn't turn out to be an Elf on the Shelf. Sneaking in through the ceiling and causing trouble on Christmas Day seems exactly like something that little shit would do.