Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Men had a hunch something was up

Father, son foil possible crime; man charged in 35 break-ins

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An observant Elmwood apartment block owner and his son helped Winnipeg police close a string of unsolved apartment break-and-enter cases.

Darryl Russell and his 18-year-old son, Kevin, encountered a man loitering inside a Poplar Avenue apartment block this week.

They decided to hold him for police after he acted suspicious.

The man is now accused in 35 break-ins in various parts of the city -- some dating back more than a year.

Police and court records show the suspect was found carrying lock picks and other "sophisticated break-in tools" such as a "hand-held high-frequency hearing device" suitable for cracking safes or vaults.

The value of the thefts and the cost of damage resulting from the break-ins has been pegged at $80,000.

Police have the Russells to thank for helping them catch a suspect.

"Something just made me think, 'I'm not letting this dude go,' " said Darryl Russell, who has owned the block since 1998.

"I'm sick of (these crimes). I'm so suspicious of people now. What's he doing in my building?"

'Something just made me think, "I'm not letting this dude go." I'm sick of (these crimes). I'm so suspicious of people now. What's he doing in my building?'

-- Darryl Russell, with his son, Kevin Russell, at the Elmwood apartment block where they encountered a suspicious man

On Wednesday around noon, the father and son arrived at the block to do renovation work when they spotted a "clean-cut" stranger in a basement hallway near the mailboxes.

They approached him and questioned him about his identity, his reason for being in the building and who he was visiting.

The man, sporting a jacket with a business logo and a backpack, spoke in a heavy European accent, Darryl Russell said.

"George, George," the man seemed to be saying, he explained.

He told the man: "There's no person here by that name."

More questioning exposed even more discrepancies.

With some coaxing, the Russells convinced the man to show them the suite he was purportedly visiting.

He followed behind them on the way up the stairs to the third floor. Suddenly, he said he had to leave because "his car was waiting," Darryl Russell said.

Russell dialed the Winnipeg police non-emergency line and then he and his son returned to the main floor to face the man again.

They asked to see the contents of his backpack, but that agitated the stranger even more and he made a move to leave.

That's when the father and son blocked the exit -- and things turned violent.

"He started punching at us (and) that's when I phoned 911," Russell said.

He said his son was clipped in the side of the head, but managed to hang on to the man and prevent him from escaping.

In the scuffle, a long pick and a nozzle from a lubricant can came out of the stranger's pockets, Russell said.

Police arrived within minutes and apprehended the suspect.

On Friday, Russell wondered whether the man had been tipped off that a tenant recently had electronics delivered.

"Maybe that's why he hasn't got caught," he said. "Because he sort of knows where he's going -- tiptoes around."

No other tenants reported knocks at their door or other disturbances Wednesday, he added.

Months ago, another tenant had her third-floor lock picked and the door was left open. The thief left a note saying he robbed her because there were no jobs, Russell said.

Investigators took the note as evidence.

"I'm almost thinking this is some elaborate scam," Russell added.

Court records show the accused is suspected of breaking into a third-floor suite at the building on Oct. 22, 2013.

Police said they searched a Lynn Lake Drive home and recovered stolen property, including a laser printer.

Ros Melnyk, 20, faces 45 charges. He was being held at the Winnipeg Remand Centre Friday and had not yet applied for bail.

Melnyk, who has no record of convictions or arrests in Manitoba, is presumed innocent.

 

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2014 ??65532

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