Burglar targeting car washes in Missouri and Illinois

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ST. LOUIS – Car washes have been under siege in the St. Louis area and beyond. At least one suspect has ripped off dozens of car washes. He’s fooled witnesses so far, but not surveillance cameras.

The suspect hit the Bethalto Car Wash in Bethalto, Ill., around 3:30 a.m. Sunday. A surveillance camera shows him pulling up in a Budget rental truck.

“He’s in a moving style truck,” Brett Anderson, owner of the car wash said. “He popped his hood and backed up to the pay station and kind of blocked everybody from what he was doing.”

The suspect usually goes straight for the pay stations outside the automatic washes, according to police and car wash owners. He’s usually ‘on property’ for 10-20 minutes.

Things took longer in Bethalto.

“He got stuck on one of (the pay stations),” Anderson said. “He was there for an hour and 10 minutes. Unfortunately, we had about a dozen cars drive by the wash there. People saw it and didn’t think anything of it. Nobody called.”

Car wash owners from mid-Missouri to Hannibal/Quincy to St. Louis County and Southern Illinois report 40 or more thefts in the past two months.

Most cases feature a man in a rental truck.

Police report one case in Fulton, Mo., 10 days ago, and one on Watson Road in St. Louis County just Monday night.

In both cases, the suspect was in a Budget rental truck and broke into pay stations.

“There was a Budget rent-a-truck that pulled into our local car wash. He pulled right up to the automatic wash. He got out and opened the hood of the truck,” Lt. Bill Ladwig of the Fulton Police Department said. “He started working on the coin box. If someone would drive by he would turn back to face his truck like he was working on his truck…we are going to disseminate this to the Missouri Information Analysis Center (MIAC) and share our information with any of the departments that have had this type of thing happen.”

“I’m sure if we get this on the news and spread the word … hopefully what we’re doing here will help out and get him caught,” Anderson said.

The suspect appears to strike most often when the weather clears after rain or snow and car washes get busy.

After snow and possible freezing temperatures Tuesday and Wednesday, the forecast calls for a return to sunny and warmer weather for the St. Louis region, Thursday.

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