A man who was hiding in the rafters of a Washington grocery store for at least six weeks was discovered with 28 cartons of cigarettes and a wheel of artisanal cheese worth nearly $400, authorities say.
The Auburn Police Department has been called to Haggen Northwest Fresh Market several times since employees claimed an unidentified man was stealing items after hours and then returning to a spot in the ceiling.
On Wednesday, authorities took the ‘Haggen Grocery Store Burglar’ into custody after investigators served a search warrant.
They recovered ‘very expensive’ Beecher’s Handmade Cheese worth $394.97, being sold at $22.99 per pound, and several cartons of cigarettes stolen from the store.
Authorities say the cheese cannot be re-sold by the grocery store, so it was photographed for the case and then donated to a food bank.
Authorities have not said where or how the man was located, and did not publicly disclose his identity.
A definite account of how long he was inside the grocery store has not been revealed, but police received their first phone call on Christmas Day.
The man’s living status is unclear, but the city reports having around 970 homeless adults as of 2018. The median income for the city of 80,000 people is nearly $67,000.
KING 5 first reported the story after authorities released surveillance footage from Haggen Northwest Fresh Market showing the man inside the store.
While dressed in all-black with a face mask and a large black duffel bag, the man can we seen walking through the store after hours in search of items to steal.
The bag was reportedly filled with thousands of dollars in cigarettes and liquor from the store.
During their initial search on Christmas Day, authorities found evidence that someone had accessed a vent in the store’s roof.
Officers also found jackets, gloves, tools and other debris before later discovering a rope near the vent’s entry point.
They determined the man was squatting inside the store after employees reported hearing footsteps and seeing the man’s legs dangling from the ceiling of a storage closet.
Officers would respond to the grocery store twice on January 15 and once on January 16 and 17. New evidence was discovered each time.
Auburn Police Commander Mike Hirman said: ‘We found where someone had been. 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.’
Police used various of methods to track the man down, including heat-mapping infrared tools and K-9 units.
At the time, Hirman admitted that tracking the man down was a challenge for the Property Crimes Unit.
‘It’s very difficult. There are many, many little hiding places where he could’ve been. It’s such a large store and it’s very crowded with venting and everything,’ he said.