EVERETT — The slits were slight, just big enough for small hands to slip through.
Detectives found the trademark cuts in cash-depleted safes from Bellingham to Bellevue. Each vault had the same incision carved with a metal grinder.
The number of break-ins at businesses — Jiffy Lubes, Great Clips, Burger Kings and others — mounted across the Puget Sound region in the summer and early fall.
Police now believe they know who is responsible.
Documents filed Wednesday charge a Marysville man with four burglaries. More could follow. Adam Nemra, 29, is being investigated by no fewer than 10 police departments around Puget Sound for roughly 40 burglaries, according to court documents.
Along the way, detectives from several departments exchanged information.
“I think what is important to some degree is the investigation is widespread and this is really a lot of agencies doing just good old-fashioned police work,” said Adam Cornell, a Snohomish County deputy prosecutor who filed the charges.
In September, Everett detective Danny Rabelos was handed an assignment to investigate five Jiffy Lube burglaries that had occurred in the city during the previous two months.
Reports he gathered from other police departments described the same modus operandi. Someone was breaking windows and using grinding tools to penetrate the safes.
Rabelos was struck by the exacting cut in each one.
It also appeared to him that the burglar must have had small, slender hands to reach through the narrow openings to withdraw the cash.
As it turned out, detectives in King County already had their eyes on Nemra. When Redmond police arrested the Marysville man for driving with a suspended license Sept. 5, they found evidence linking him to a burglary of a salon in their city and a Jiffy Lube in Bellevue. In Nemra’s car, they found a crowbar, a disk grinder, a black ski mask and what police described as a “backpack burglary kit.” Inside were printed map directions from Everett to the Redmond salon and Bellevue Jiffy Lube.
In Snohomish, detectives had identified Nemra and another man as suspects in a Burger King burglary there. Video allegedly showed Nemra’s face peering into the camera as he attempted to dismantle it. There also was video of a man matching his description breaking a window, stealing a safe and loading loot into a vehicle.
The information gave Rabelos a suspect, but he initially lacked hard evidence to prove his hunch.
In October, two more burglaries — one at a pizza restaurant, the other at a Dollar Tree store — matched the break-in method of the others. This time the burglar left the detective a gift: drops of blood.
Rabelos wondered if the thief cut himself on shards of broken glass or perhaps the rough metal slits in the safes.
The detective learned two days later that Nemra had been arrested for investigation of the Snohomish Burger King job and was in jail.
Rabelos and fellow Everett detective Jim Massingale went to pay the suspect a visit.
“When I saw his hands, I actually got a little excited,” Rabelos said. “I could see their size, the small wrists and the scratches.”
Nemra opted not to talk with the detective who asked to take photos of his hands. The suspect assented to the pictures. He said the scratches were caused by a cat.
Rabelos got a search warrant and obtained a DNA sample from Nemra. Lab results matched his genetic profile to blood found on a napkin at a Marysville Burger King, glass at a Burger King in Arlington and a door handle at the Everett Dollar Store. The Washington State Crime Lab estimated the probability of misidentification at 1 in 450 quadrillion, court papers said.
If convicted, Nemra could face more than six years in prison.
Others may also face arrest.
“If the investigation reveals there are additional accomplices involved, we will consider charging them,” Cornell said.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org.