After moving out of her bungalow for a few days while it was being fumigated, an Echo Park woman and her family were preparing to return to their home last week when she was contacted by the exterminator. The house has been broken into on Wednesday morning only a few hours before a crew showed up to remove the heavy blue-and-white tarp. “They went under the tent, knocked in our French doors. Then they cleared out what they wanted,” she said of the burglars, who had enough time to stuff the family’s suitcases with belongings they planned to steal. “All they had to do was get under [the tent] and they would be safe. They could be having a party in there.”
An LAPD detective said burglaries that take place during fumigation remains relatively rare in the Echo Park area. But he advises that residents to remain on guard while their homes are being treated for termites or other pests.
Mario Mota, the chief burglary detective in the Rampart Division, did not investigate last week’s Echo Park burglary (it took place in the Northeast Division). But the break in fits a pattern of other similar crimes in which burglars break into homes on or near the last day of a fumigation, when the toxic fumes have dissipated. “They are able to go in there and cover their mouth and do some ransacking,” he said.
Crimes that take place during a fumigation remain relatively rare in the Echo Park area, said Mota, who noted that it has been a more common crime in South L.A. However, last month on Park View Street in Historic Filipinotown, a pair of burglars sliced their way into a tented residence on the last day of fumigation and began ransacking the place while the exterminators showed up to remove the tarp. The exterminators called the police, who arrested the burglars as they carried duffel bags containing about $50,000 worth of stolen baseball memorabilia. A police hazardous material team was called in to make sure there were no other suspects inside.
Mota advises residents to stop by their homes frequently while they are being fumigated and to lock all doors and windows and activate alarm systems. Also, ask neighbors to keep an eye out of any suspicious activity, he said.
In Echo Park, the woman whose home was broken into considers herself lucky because the burglars, described as a woman and a man driving a black pick up truck, fled and left behind most of the suitcases packed with the family’s belongings. Her husband was working in a separate studio on the property at the time but was not aware that the burglars were at work in his home under the tent, she said. A neighbor spotted the pair but assumed they were working with the exterminators. The owners of the home believe the burglars fled after they realized they had been spotted by the neighbor. The burglars left behind a respirator mask they apparently used while searching the home, she said.
The Echo Park burglary victim said she would have taken extra precautions, perhaps hiring a security guard or camping out on the property, if she knew her home was at risk while being fumigated. Her family moved into the house one day later than scheduled after changing the locks.
“I just wanted to get my house back in order,” she said.