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Vehicle identified in Nevis string of burglaries

The back door of Musky Water Art & Emporium was broken into when thieves used a large rock to smash the glass. "I'm surprised at the brazenness," said owner Joe Ganley, whose cash register was taken. (Photo courtesy of Hubbard County Sheriff)1 / 4
Joe Ganley was back to business Thursday. He rents bikes to tourists to ride along the Heartland Trail. This couple was celebrating their 15th anniversary so he captured the moment for them. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 4
Steve Mickelson stands by his cash register. The co-owner of Steve & Jill's Steak & Pizza takes the cash drawer out every night to thwart thieves. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)3 / 4
Tristan Olson takes a break from the cleaning. She's sitting in front of the boarded up window at Bullwinkle's. The restaurant was vandalized in the burglary and had to be closed Monday so owners could clean up the mess. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)4 / 4

Outrage, relief and suspicion are the conflicting emotions running through Nevis' streets these days.

A string of break-ins early Monday morning up and down the two main drags connecting the tiny hamlet has sparked anger and shaken the six affected merchants' sense of security.

The collective question: Are they our own? Is he one of us? A burglar or burglars seemed to know their way around town, and that's been somewhat unsettling. But a surveillance tape from a convenience store parking lot is currently being viewed and it may give authorities and residents the answers to those questions.

Late Thursday investigators caught a break.

"We've identified the vehicle," said Hubbard County Sheriff Frank Homer. "Now we're just putting the pieces together."

Burglars went door-to-door smashing glass, mostly in search of liquor and cash.

At Bullwinkle's on Highway 34, the rented steam cleaner still sits in the corner. The restaurant was closed Monday so the owners could clean up the mess.

Burglars smashed a side window and entered. In doing so, they avoided a security light in the back yard and the neighbors on the other side from the window.

"They took about 10 bottles of hard liquor and two cases of beer," said Tristan Olson, daughter of owner Becky Kemmer.

They took the cash register with around $200, but missed the pull-tab jars and money.

"That's why I think it's a bunch of kids," she said.

Maybe so, said Homer, but they could have been adults in a hurry.

Olson said the burglars then vandalized the restaurant and that made her angry.

"They took the used grease that we had sitting outside for the recyclers to pick up and poured it all over the floors and the rugs," she said."

They took a bottle of grenadine, sticky red sweetener, and poured it all over, staining everything it touched.

Then the culprits headed for Bunyan Trails Drive, Nevis' main street.

They threw a large rock into the back door of Musky Water Art & Emporium.

"They took the cash register outside, then left all the coins," said owner Joe Ganley. His door cannot be repaired so he must now file an insurance claim and replace it.

But he's relieved they have poor taste: they left a collection of stunning pottery bowls on the shelves, along with other valuable inventory.

Thursday, life was back to normal for Joe, who was busy renting bicycles for visitors to ride on the Heartland Trail.

A shocked South Dakota couple, about to board a tandem, overheard the tale.

"I didn't know they did that up here," the woman said.

"I didn't either," Joe replied. His business was the victim of an attempted burglary one year ago by some juveniles, but it survived intact. The kids were quickly caught.

Across the street, the burglars tried the heavy wooden door of the Muskie Waters Co., a candy and ice cream shop owned by Ganley's wife Tracy. They left for riper pastures next door.

"It upsets me that they would do that to the local business owners," she said. "I'm thankful we had no vandalism. I hope they get him but I hope it's not a local. That would hurt more."

Next door, they smashed their way into the Iron Horse Bar & Grill, took liquor, more cash and made a mess.

They hop scotched back and forth across the street, hitting the Northwind Grocery & Café.

"We've got an alarm system," said owner Sara Halik. But it didn't trigger because the crow bar they used on the back door only caused scratches.

"I wish it had sounded," Halik said. "It might have stopped the spree."

Across the street, at Steve & Jill's Steak & Pizza, "they tried the front door; they ruined the knob. Then they tore out a window screen," said owner Steve Mickelson.

"They were looking for liquor and cash and we don't have either."

He takes the cash register drawer out every night and leaves the till empty.

"I think we were the last place hit," he said. "I think they were just about caught."

An eyewitness spotted someone in a hooded shirt around 4:20 a.m. and called the suspicious sighting in. By 5 a.m. the street was swarming with officers and business owners who'd been notified.

Homer said tips have been coming in as investigators pore over the convenience store videos.

"It'd be a good one to wrap up," Homer told the county board Wednesday. "We put everybody out there to see who was involved. We want to get this guy, or guys."

By early Friday morning, Homer was positive the crimes would be solved.

"We're getting some information together," he said.

Angie Karl, co-owner of Meyers Meats, was lucky. The burglars only broke the door lever lock off trying to gain entrance. The windows are protected by heavy metal bars.

"I think the town is a little outraged," said Joe Ganley. "We're surprised at the brazenness of coming through the front doors, then smashing their way in the back if they couldn't come through the front."

Wednesday night, Walker experienced a similar incident, Homer said. It occurred just before midnight and police were on the scene almost immediately.

"We're looking to see if they're tied in."