MARYSVILLE — The first time the thieves broke into St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Marysville they mainly grabbed expensive musical equipment.
The congregation was told not to expect to see their property again. It would be difficult to track down. The equipment likely was going to be sold to make some quick cash, a means to pay for a drug addiction.
The parishioners looked on the bright side. No one was hurt, the equipment could be replaced and the thieves had left behind the more meaningful items used in worship.
Three days later church members filed in for Sunday services. The thieves had been back.
“This time they cleared out everything,” Pastor Terry Kyllo said.
They took computer equipment. They swiped a picture of Jesus and stole groceries collected for the local food banks. Even more heart-wrenching was the theft of a brass candle holder used in services to represent the light of Christ in the world. Also gone was the church’s decades-old silver chalice used to take communion during the Lord’s Supper.
“It was a lot to handle for people,” Kyllo said.
The congregation went on with services that Sunday and joined each other in fellowship at a picnic afterward.
They prayed for the thieves.
“The teachings of Jesus are pretty clear. We’re to love our enemies,” Kyllo said. “We must learn to see each others as humans and seek reconciliation.”
Two weeks earlier, in July, Pastor Michael Hanford and the congregation at Christ Church in Monroe also were offering up prayers for the people who stole from them.
Thieves had broken into the Seventh Day Adventist Church outside of town two nights in a row. Hanford’s congregation uses the church on Sundays.
The thieves had forced open the doors and loaded up guitars, drums, computers, video cameras and other electronics, belonging to both congregations.
“We began to pray immediately,” Hanford said.
They prayed for the thieves, for their repentance and salvation.
“They need Christ. They need His word,” the longtime pastor said.
The congregation also asked God to guide the police officers investigating the break-ins.
“We prayed they would find them and stop them for doing this to others,” Hanford said.
Marysville and Monroe police believe they have caught up with two men behind the thefts. Both were arrested last month. The men, Randall Marlow and Todd Joiner, are suspects in at least seven church burglaries in Snohomish County. Marlow also is suspected of breaking into a Marysville bookstore and making off with more than $6,000 worth of comic books.
Marysville and Monroe police have found some of the stolen property and returned it to the churches. They recovered more than 100 different items at 10 different pawn stores between Mount Vernon and Seattle, Monroe police evidence technician Julie Stuvland said.
“We don’t always get to do that,” she said.
Both agencies say they were assisted by LeadsOnline, a database that pawn store employees must use to inventory property brought into their shops.
In Monroe, Stuvland was able to locate some stolen musical equipment after Hanford provided serial numbers.
About 10 years ago, the church, when it was on Lewis Street, was burglarized. After that the church became diligent about keeping an inventory of equipment, including serial numbers and pictures.
Records showed that Joiner, 37, had pawned some of the stolen equipment. From there, Stuvland was able to track all of his pawn history. She put out an alert to hold any property he brought in. That’s when she learned that Marysville police were already watching his transactions.
Marysville detective Cori Shackleton was investigating heists in her city. She didn’t have any serial numbers so she searched the database for the names of people who were pawning a large quantity of property.
Joiner’s name popped up. She was familiar with the suspect; she was already investigating him for other crimes.
Police searched Joiner’s house and learned that he was friends with Marlow. Shackelton began looking into Marlow’s history at pawn shops. Investigators also discovered he had storage unit in Everett. They searched there, finding some stolen goods.
Police recovered tens of thousands of dollars in property.
Pawn records show that the thieves made about $9,600, getting paid pennies on the dollar. The database also showed that the men pawned equipment just hours after some of the break-ins.
Pawn store employees said the men had a believable story about why they needed to pawn the electronics, Stuvland said. They claimed to be in a band but a big gig had fallen through and they needed the money to get by. They said they’d be back before their next gig. The men were able to operate the equipment when they were asked by the employees.
Joiner was arrested three days after the last burglary at St. Philip’s. Marlow, 45, was picked up nearly two weeks later in a 7-Eleven parking lot in Marysville. Police were told that earlier in the day Marlow had parked a utility trailer nearby. Police found that it had been stolen from the Church of Nazarene in early August.
Police recovered stolen computers and comic books inside Marlow’s vehicle, court papers said. They found pawn slips for four stolen televisions.
“We’ve tied at least one of them to all the burglaries,” Shackleton said.
In the weeks after the burglaries, police invited Hanford and Kyllo to go through the stolen property to see if any of it belonged to their churches.
Kyllo and another church member noticed a few items, electronics mainly. Then they saw the brass candle stand. They also spotted the silver chalice.
Some families have been taking communion from that chalice for years.
“It was very meaningful to get that back,” Kyllo said.
Unfortunately, the theft has taken time that could have been better spent serving the community, the pastor said. The congregation was forced to think about beefing up security and invest in a security system.
It’s also been a challenge to keep the burglaries in perspective. There are other people who are going through more difficult times in their lives, Kyllo said.
His congregation has been touched by the outpouring of prayers from other churches. Parishioners in Monroe also felt great support from other churches. Some offered to lend Christ Church musical instruments and anything else its congregation might need, Hanford said.
The men also say they are incredibly grateful to the police who worked so hard for them.
Shackleton said the investigation continues. Not all the property has been found.
“We’re still missing a lot of things,” she said.
The detective also is working to return the property that has been recovered. She suspects that some of it will belong to churches not on their list of victims.
Joiner and Marlow both have prior criminal convictions, including crimes involving drugs.
Kyllo said he intends to write the men and visit them if they go to prison. He doesn’t condone their behavior. He also doesn’t believe he should turn his back on the men.
“The world is not divided into good people and bad people,” the pastor said.