Police likened the thief to super hero Spiderman because in some of the break-ins — which targeted high-end homes in neighbourhoods in and around Toronto including Forest Hill, Richmond Hill and Vaughan — exterior walls were scaled to avoid motion alarms and gain access to second-floor windows. In others, skylights were removed to gain access or holes were cut into the attic.
The thief's climbing ability and arsenal of sophisticated tools prompted police to call the investigation Project Spiderman.
"He's one of the most prolific and sophisticated persons we have come across when it comes to this kind of crime," said Det.-Sgt. Savas Kryiacou at a news conference Thursday. "He has the physical ability, he prepared himself and he obviously had the equipment.
"We looked at a lot of those occurrences and it became apparent to us they had a lot of things in common," said Kyriacou. "There were similarities that we noticed and we started an investigation involving several divisions."
According to police "millions of dollars" in property was taken particularly jewelry, including scores of expensive watches. A sample of the stolen items and the tools police say were used to steal them were on display.
Police believe the break-ins began began in October 2010 and ended on January 2014.
Facing 31 breaking and entering charges is Shane Gagnon, 43, of Bradford, Ont. He also known as Shane Louis Zwezdararyk, which police believe is his birth name.
He was stopped by police after being spotted driving through a stop sign. He was arrested after a short chase and a number of stolen items were found inside the vehicle.
Police have taken more than 800 pictures of recovered property in an attempt to reunite the stolen items with their owners. Police have posted the photos here on a Facebook page they plan to update.
Kyriacou is appealing to victims to call police at (416) 808-3219 or email Gagnon.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Police said Gagnon had several homes, a common-law wife and two young children. They also say he was in the process of opening a restaurant with his wife.
Tips to prevent break-ins:
Police offered the following tips to homeowners to avoid becoming a victim of such break-ins:- Remove items that provide access to second floor windows, such as ladders.
- Ensure motion detectors cover the exterior of the house.
- Sliding doors are a common access point for break-ins because they can be easily lifted of their tracks. Police suggest backing them up with a lock pin.
- If your house has an alarm system, make sure it's engaged at night when you're sleeping.
- Keep an eye out for any suspicious people or vehicles in your neighbourhood.
- If you go on vacation, make sure you have someone clear snow from your steps and driveway. Uncleared snow tells would-be thieves you're not home.