Police officers and detectives have an arsenal of tools to help them track down the bad guy and crack the case. Despite their best efforts, however, some cases are never resolved after leads hit dead ends.
In Durham, North Carolina, the police officers from the Durham County Sheriff’s Office worked hard to protect their community. Over the years, however, there were dozens of cases that had gone unsolved. But in 2013, one small observation led cops to the mother lode…
On the night of Sunday, November 10, 2013, Sergeant David Labarre from the Durham County Sheriff’s Office was hard at work in his office trying to solve a series of back-to-back burglaries on a residential street in northern Durham, North Carolina.
The Thief Strikes Again
Residents from Baird Street had reported a string of burglaries in the area and it seemed the thief or thieves had struck again. Just before, a woman called to file a report that her home had been broken into while she was out. When she arrived home, her jewelry was all missing…
Sgt. Labarre and the other officers at the department knew that if they didn’t find out who was responsible for the burglaries soon, it was only a matter of time before they struck again. Labarre was determined to get to the bottom of the robberies, so went out to collect evidence.
The Security Cameras
Labarre contacted the victim’s neighbors to see if anyone had installed surveillance cameras in their homes. One neighbor was a military I.T. man and had installed security cameras all around his house. Like the rest of the residents on the street, he wanted the burglaries to end so was happy to help…
The neighbor handed over everything he had from the day the burglary had occurred, and Labarre, a 10-year-old veteran with the sheriff’s office, got to work sorting through the footage. Unfortunately, the video footage wasn’t clear enough to give a definitive lead.
However, the footage wasn’t useless. Cameras captured the two suspects pulling up to the victim’s home in a silver Sequoia before entering the home and leaving shortly after. As Sgt. Labarre was inspecting the footage, something about the suspect’s car stood out to him…
The rim of the front right wheel of the silver Sequoia was completely black. Normally, when a wheel is dirty, the silver of the rim still peeks through the mud and dirt. This wheel, on the other hand, was covered in black soot that was caked over the rim.
The Only Clue
Labarre, who had a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, realized the black soot must have been brake dust. The officer had never seen a wheel coated in so much brake dust, and knew that it was the biggest clue they had to help them find the suspects…
A Race Against The Rain
If the team could track down a silver Toyota Sequoia before it rained and the soot was washed away, they could find the thieves. That night, Labarre sent an email out to the Criminal Investigation Division and explained that 2 houses in the same neighborhood had been robbed in a weekend.
In the email, Labarre also explained that the 2 suspects had been driving a silver Toyota Sequoia at the time of the burglaries. “The right front wheel appears to be heavily covered in brake dust,” Labarre wrote in the email. “Happy Hunting…”
Searching The Database
The next morning, Intelligence Analyst Paula Gullie read the email and started searching through the database for old crimes where a silver Sequoia had been involved. A couple of hits came back and led the analyst to a 2012 robbery where 24-year-old Joseph Hanna was convicted for stealing guns and jewelry.
The Hanna Twins
Joseph’s twin brother, Kamel, had also been arrested that year for theft-related charges. The analyst immediately sent the information she had gathered to Detective Jeff Smith, who planned to visit the twins’ home to try and get a photo of their truck’s wheels…
Looking For Proof
If the front right wheel was covered in dark brake soot, they might be able to get a search warrant to look for stolen items. While Detective Smith and another officer headed to the twins’ home, however, a breaking and entering was reported down the street from the robberies over the weekend while they were driving.
The Prime Suspects
Minutes later, the officers saw the silver Sequoia racing down the street. They pulled the truck over and found the Hanna twins inside. Not only was the front right wheel covered in brake dust, but there was broken jewelry on the floor of the truck and the license plate matched the tag they had been searching for…
The officers brought the twins down to the Sheriff’s office, but Kamel Hanna knew it was only a matter of time before cops searched their home. Within an hour, Kamel confessed to everything. According to Kamel, he was a heroin addict and stole things to pay for drugs. Kamel also told the cops that his brother Joseph had nothing to do with the crimes.
That night, cops entered the twins’ home and found hundreds of stolen items all over the house. There were boxes full of stolen jewelry, 3 guns, and countless laptops, cameras, and TVs. It took 3 long days for the team to sort through all the stolen goods…
Investigators were able to link the stolen items to at least 20 recent robberies in the area and charged Kamel with 43 counts of theft-related crimes and 6 firearm charges. Once all the stolen goods were itemized, the team started working to return the items to their owners.
Hunt For The Owners
Out of all the stolen items, police retrieved 3 TVs. Detective Smith noticed 2 of the flat-screens no longer had serial numbers on them as they had been scratched away. The 3rd TV, however, still had a serial number so Smith checked the database…
The Police Commander
A 2008 sheriff’s report came back as a match to the serial number, but when Detective Smith saw the name on the report, he was stunned. The victim’s name was Ricky Buchanan, the recently retired internal affairs commander for the sheriff’s office. His home had been robbed back in 2008, and one of the things that had been stolen was his 32-inch flat-screen TV.
After the robbery, the commander tried to hunt down his stolen property. Eventually, Buchanan gave up when he hit several dead ends and assumed he would never see it again. But years later, his wife Connie, who still worked at the sheriff’s office as an administrative assistant, sent him a photo of the TV that had finally made its way back to them.