It’s safe to say that Social Media has become prevalent in our daily lives. Updating Twitter, commenting on Facebook, and scrolling through Instagram have replaced much of the other free time activities we use to stave off boredom.
We do it so much that we don’t even have to think about it. We Tweet out exactly what we’re doing, take pictures of our food and vacation spots, and many of us have our location on at all times, without even realizing it. But what happens when this seemingly-innocuous technology gets used against us?
Rash of Crimes
The Los Angeles Police Department was puzzled. For weeks, they had been on the trail of what was essentially a rash of burglaries into the homes of some of Hollywood’s biggest names. These break-ins happened without the owners’ knowledge and in almost all cases, the criminals were gone before anyone knew what hit them.
It began as a few simple burglaries from a few famous folks. Rihanna, Christina Milian, football player Robert Woods, and baseball player Yasiel Puig were among the victims. Yet despite the relatively high level of security in their homes, the burglars continued to get into the homes of these entertainers without getting caught.
Eventually, the police figured out that it wasn’t just one person, the robberies were being committed by a gang. Weeks passed and the apparently sophisticated gang of burglars broke into more famous homes. Hollywood’s biggest names lost valuables and cash and their neighbors worried that they might be hit next. There were no leads in the case.
Many compared the rash of robberies to another set of infamous robbers that struck a few famous homes in Los Angeles between 2008 and 2009. The Bling Ring, as they were called, was an eight-person gang operating out of L.A. that robbed the homes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Orlando Bloom.
The Bling Ring
The Bling Ring successfully stole about $3 million in cash and belongings and inspired a movie of the same name starring Emma Watson. They were eventually captured when an anonymous tipster began pointing fingers at a few of the gang’s many members. They all pleaded not guilty initially but were subsequently sentenced.
Police wondered if the new burglaries were the result of some sort of copycat gang, a new Bling Ring for a new time but quickly dismissed the idea. Whoever these new thieves were, they were unaffiliated with the old gang. Not only that, but their motives and methods seemed different as well.
After viewing dozens of surveillance tapes, the LAPD finally found something they could use. It came from the Puig house robbery. The tapes showed two men burglarizing the home and dragging a safe downstairs before running off. They released the video to the media and asked the public to help them identify the culprits.
They finally caught up to the burglars following the robbery of San Fernando Valley home of L.A. Rams player Robert Woods. The robbers had apparently broken into the home while Woods was playing a game. It now made perfect sense. It was public knowledge that the Rams were playing that night, so of course, he wouldn’t be at home.
It occurred to police that all of these celebrities had a pretty strong presence over social media. They posted about where they were and what they were doing many times during their week, so anyone who followed them could pretty easily discern when they were at home and when the house would be completely unguarded.
The suspects had quite brilliantly picked the celebrity homes based purely on their social media postings and travel schedules. In addition, they had employed other clever casing techniques to make certain that their entry and escape routes would be unencumbered. They wouldn’t discover what these were until they caught them, however.
It seems like pure dumb luck which ultimately led the LAPD to the culprits. It occurred during a an unrelated traffic stop. The criminals had been leaving Woods’ home when the police decided to pull them over and see what they might have been up to. They had no idea they’d just pulled over three of the suspects they’d been so desperate to find.
The burglars were arrested and taken down to the station. Police officers, having found several stolen items in their car, secured warrants to search their homes as well. These searches turned up all the evidence they needed. They uncovered $50,000 in cash, watches, jewelry, designer bags, and many other stolen valuables.
Quite a List
Searching the burglars’ homes, the LAPD also discovered another piece of pretty damning information: a list of other celebrities the group planned to burglarize. Names on the list included actors Viola Davis and Matt Damon, and basketball legend LeBron James. Just in case, the police told the listed celebrities they should increase security.
When questioned about how the burglars determined the viability of celebrity homes, they revealed their casing methodology. Apparently, the suspects scouted famous neighborhoods in button-down shirts to appear legitimate and avoid any unwanted attention. They also drove in luxury cars to blend in with the wealthy homeowners in the area.
Once they had determined a perfect home, they would return to their residences, change into darker, more comfortable clothing, and drive a bigger vehicle to the scene. This meant that they wouldn’t be recognized as they carted away the various stolen merchandise.
The plan was elegant and simple. Knock on the door of the home to be robbed and determine that no one was home. If no one answered, send a few of the gang members to break-in, loot the master bedroom, and ransack the place. Any cash, jewelry, firearms, or expensive brand-name merchandise would be taken.
Fleeing and Flocking
The whole process would be done in a matter of minutes, much quicker than most alarm companies could even mount a response. This is commonplace, but the idea of multiple thieves flocking into areas where the rich and famous were prevalent is fairly new. It is a practice is known, rather appropriately, as “flocking.”
One of the suspects, 19-year-old Tyress Williams of Los Angeles, has been charged with four counts of first-degree burglary. His three other accomplices, two other teens, and a 34-year-old woman, have also been charged, though what those charges may end up being has yet to be released to the public.
Police Captain Lillian Carranza of the LAPD Commercial Crimes Division came out and announced all available information at a recent news conference, but though the majority of the case is solved, there are still some questions. The presence of the alleged 34-year-old woman in connection with the burglaries is something that still has many people puzzled.
The case has yet to go to trial, but there is no doubt that even the nature of the older woman’s relationship to her younger accomplices will be revealed. As for Tyrese Williams, the only culprit openly charged at the moment, he is facing a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison if the jury finds him guilty.