The crimes were nearly perfect: Over six years beginning in 2011, small-town jewelry stores in Florida, generally located in strip malls, were hit. Their alarm systems were taken out with an electronic jamming device, the stores were accessed by cutting a "door" through the wall of a neighboring store's bathroom into that of the jewelry store (they were usually built beside each other to make plumbing less of a hassle), and the state-of-the-art safes were generally opened by a single, exact hole that was drilled into it. "The group's expertise was so out of proportion to that of the police departments in the small towns and suburbs where they operated that local law enforcement seemed helpless," writes Geoff Manaugh for the Atlantic in a lengthy piece about how the crew was caught. A good deal of the credit goes to Mike Crowley.
Not that the retired police detective has gotten much credit. Manaugh writes that local police departments saw the now-71-year-old as a hassle. But he plugged ahead, driving to crime scenes around the state at his own expense. And he came up with an idea: the possibility that the team who hit jewelry stores in the Southeast from 1996 to 1999—taking in at least $10 million—was out of prison and at it again. Safe technician Michael Ornelas had flipped to the dark side; William Anthony Granims was a former private investigator who served as the getaway pilot. Their crew was brought down by a goof involving eBay, but the men had been out of jail for years. Crowley took his theory to the FBI, and they were interested—they just didn't have a federal crime on their hands. Read the full piece to learn how the crew was taken down a second time. (Read more Longform stories.)