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Sandy police say they caught prolific burglar

The man police believe is responsible for at least 20 burglaries is in jail.

Police arrested Mark Ian Keith, 23, on Friday, March 30, at his grandparents' home on Strawbridge Parkway.

Keith moved to Sandy from Corbett Feb. 1 and had planned to stay with his grandparents while he found a job, according to his grandmother. But instead of looking for work, investigators say, Keith was working the neighborhood, breaking into more than a dozen homes within walking distance of his temporary Strawbridge Parkway home.

For the past two months, Sandy police officers said they had been investigating an unusually high number of residential burglaries in the area. Locals found that their back windows had been smashed, and that their prescription drugs, firearms, pocket change and electronics had been stolen.

Law enforcement had no leads on the burglaries until Thursday, March 28, when Keith's ex-girlfriend contacted police.

'She explained how she had seen lots of stuff at his house,' said Sandy Officer Jason Coates. 'She knew he doesn't work, and didn't understand how he had all this stuff.'

Coates said the woman's husband had purchased a Glock handgun from Keith, and the woman's suspicions led her to check with their local police department, Hillsboro, to see if the weapon was stolen. The police quickly found that the gun had been taken from a Sandy-area home.

The woman also told police that Keith had left a camera at her Hillsboro home, among other items. When Sandy police checked the serial number to the camera, it also was registered stolen from a Bluff Road home. They then had enough evidence to arrest Keith at his grandparents' home.

Police took Keith into custody without incident, and probably no one was caught more off-guard than Keith's grandparents.

'We're devastated,' said his grandmother. 'We thought he was looking for a job. We had no idea.'

The grandparents cooperated with investigators, who used their information and the evidence found in Keith's room to build a case against him.

When presented with the evidence, Sandy Police Chief Harold Skelton said the suspect admitted to more than a dozen burglaries. He and Clackamas County Sheriff's Deputy Marcus Wold took Keith around various neighborhoods in the Sandy area.

'We took him around to all these burgs,' Coates said, 'and he showed us every (burglary) he did.'

The majority of the burglaries police have connected to Keith took place in the neighborhoods immediately surrounding his Strawbridge Parkway home, from the Nicholas Glen and Sandy Heights neighborhoods to Bluff Road and the Firwood Road/Trubel Road area.

Coates said Keith admitted that he would monitor houses in adjacent neighborhoods, looking for signs of occupancy such as a parked car. If there wasn't a car, he'd knock on the door, and if people answered, he'd ask them if they'd seen his lost golden retriever. The person inevitably would say no, and Keith would be on his way.

'But if he came to the door and no one was home,' Coates said, 'he'd go around back and break the windows.' Keith also admitted to breaking in using unlocked front doors and skylights.

Police had a close call with Keith three weeks ago, Coates said, when a Barlow Court resident reportedly saw the suspect unsuccessfully try to break into his neighbor's home. The neighbor called police, and officers quickly established a perimeter around the house to catch the burglar, who was on foot.

Before police could find Keith, they received a report of a burglary in progress on Rachael Drive.

'It turns out it was an old burglary,' Coates said, 'but the people thought someone was still in the house. So obviously we had to break containment, and he got away.'

Although Keith allegedly admitted to 16 Sandy-area burglaries - he was arraigned in Clackamas County Circuit Court on all 16 counts - police expect the number of break-ins tied to him to grow past 20.

'We know there's a lot more,' said Clackamas County Sheriff's Deputy Brandon Claggett. 'There's a lot of property that hasn't been claimed yet. We're still trying to place it all.'

The conference room at the Sandy Police Department is filled with items discovered in Keith's room, including guns, prescription drugs, video games, collectable coins, piggy banks, laptop computers, DVD players, wristwatches and jewelry.

Since Keith's arrest, the police department has been constantly abuzz with activity, as burglary victims show up to identify their stolen property and talk with officers.

Police recovered Sandy resident Charles Overstreet's discharge pin he received after serving in World War II, an item he was 'ecstatic' to recover. Another woman recovered her grandfather's more-than-a-century-old pocket watch.

Trubel Road resident Anna Nix identified a stolen gun and wristwatch that had been taken from her home. Some pocket change had also been taken.

'I didn't even realize he broke in until the day after (it happened),' Nix said, 'when I was looking for some change for my daughter's lunch money.

The dozens of items that remain in plain sight on the conference table are items that have not yet been identified by their owners.

'There's a lot of stuff left over,' Coates said. 'It's looking more and more like (these items) are from burglaries he might have committed while in Gresham.'

Keith reportedly admitted that his last break-in occurred the day of the arrest, a day he passed through Gresham after an appointment at a methadone clinic.

With a Portland resident now among the growing list of victims, there's no telling how far, geographically, this case could spread.

'This is a significant crime spree,' Skelton said. 'Typically we've had burglaries in the past where we have a series, but not this many in so short a time, and not where we've actually caught the person and tied so many crimes to him.'

Officers are confident that Keith's arrest will have, as Skelton said, 'an immediate reduction in case load.'

Added Claggett, 'We're optimistic that the burglaries will stop at this point. It's been about two months of pure hell, with him hitting two or three houses every week.'

The next step for the Sandy Police Department - after it finishes cataloguing the massive amounts of evidence - will be to contact other police agencies to see if they can identify any of the stolen goods.

Any potential victims in this case, or anyone with information about the burglaries or the activities of Mark Ian Keith, are encouraged to call Sandy police at 503-668-5566 or the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office tip line at 503-723-4949.