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Thieves broke into a locked Quonset on the John Steinberger farm early in the morning of February 19th.
They returned about the same time February 24th to look for a passport and driver’s license left behind after the first burglary and to steal even more items from the building. However, by 6 pm that evening, one individual was in custody and by 12:20 am the next day, a second person was arrested.
The quick resolution to the case resulted from photos taken by simple trail cameras installed by Scott Steinberger and his brothers following the first burglary.
“They’re cheap, and they’re idiot-proof,” Scott said about the cameras. He farms the property with his father.
Scott discovered the first break-in on February 21st and reported the incident. He noted the farmstead has been burglarized in past years, with its relative isolation 11 miles south and 3 miles east of Kenmare. “No one lives there,” he said.
He and his father have taken measures over the years to discourage burglars, including an armored door on the Quonset and changing the locks on that door four times in the past month. The trail cameras were a new device, however.
“We set them up Tuesday morning [after the first burglary], the sheriff’s department came out and did their investigation Wednesday, and the thieves came back Thursday morning, about the same time they came previously,” said Scott.
Several photos were taken of the individuals involved and their vehicle. Some of the pictures showed individuals in the act of stealing the Steinbergers’ property. One profile view especially proved clear enough to reveal part of a tattoo on the person’s neck.
Scott Michael Sanders, 37, was arrested February 24th, and Brandon Lee Hanna, 34, was arrested the next morning. Both men are listed as Kenmare residents, and each was charged with two counts of burglary. The Ward County Sheriff’s Department is continuing the investigation, and more charges may be pending.
estimated at $50,000
A search warrant was issued for a Kenmare residence on February 25th and some of the missing tools were recovered at that time. John Steinberger said he recognized his tools immediately. “There was my ¾-inch drive ratchet wrench,” he said. “I could see the blue flecks of paint on the head of that.”
However, Scott Steinberger reported about $25,000 worth of tools still unaccounted for. “That includes federally regulated substances, like bin fumigant,” he said.
He said lithium batteries and a couple of cases of ether were taken from the Quonset, both of which could be used to manufacture methamphetamine. “They also stole really bizarre stuff,” he said, “like 1000 pounds of bolts and 300 pounds of screws, and parts for the air seeder.”
He estimated the total value of all the missing property at $50,000. A window in one of the Steinbergers’ service trucks was broken, the damaged entry door will have to be replaced, and farm equipment stored in the Quonset will be checked for vandalism. “I have to do oil samples,” said Scott Steinberger.
70 photos taken
The thieves were intent on re-entering the Steinberger’s building during their second visit. Scott Steinberger said the doorknob was kicked several times until it crumbled into small pieces, with bootprints left on the door itself.
The individuals spent enough time in the building for about 70 photos to be taken.
The final three photos suggest they found evidence of the cameras, however, with one photo of the individuals simply standing in place, then the next photo showing streaks as they moved quickly to exit the building. Scott Steinberger acknowledged he stashed the camera packaging in the Quonset until he could burn it later, and the individuals may have discovered that material.
Nevertheless, the trail cameras provided useful information to the Ward County Sheriff’s Department, according to Sergeant Todd Palumbo, one of the investigators of the theft. “Those pictures were invaluable,” he said. “Basically, in a case like this, we have to wait around for word of mouth, and this very well could have gone unsolved.”
He noted the sheriff’s department welcomed information from the public such as license plate numbers or photos of vehicles or people.
Palumbo said additional patrols have been taking place in the region, but isolated farmsteads remain a prime target.
“In the remote areas, if they want in bad enough, they can work on it,” he said. “We try to get some extra patrols out there, but in the rural areas, we’re few and far between.”
Scott Steinberger agreed. “The problem is, a lot of people don’t go out to their building sites,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been out there that month except for hauling grain. And in talking with people around the country, there’s more traffic now between one and four in the morning, always driving around slowly, about 35 miles per hour.”
Palumbo recommended that property owners keep their buildings and equipment closed and locked, with lighting especially during periods of little farming activity. “In the winter, if you don’t have to, don’t clear the driveways,” he said, adding that items of particular value should be taken to the owner’s residence for better security.
“And surveillance equipment, that’s fantastic,” he said. “It can be tough to crack this stuff, but once in a while everything falls together. That picture was very distinct.”
Given the measure of success with their own trail cameras, the Steinbergers plan to continue using them for security purposes. Scott Steinberger also appreciated the help and support the family received from community residents and the Kenmare Police Department in helping identify the thieves and recover some of the missing tools.
“They were in jail within 16 hours,” said Scott, “and we had half our stuff back by midnight.”