Grocery store squatter-burglar finally busted with large wheel of cheese [Updated]

Illustration for article titled Grocery store squatter-burglar finally busted with large wheel of cheese [Updated]
Photo: brizmaker (iStock)

Update, February 10: After six weeks of skulking around in the rafters, the burglar who has bewildered both the staff of a Washington State grocery store and the local police has finally been apprehended.


The Auburn, Washington, police announced in a Facebook post last Wednesday that the Haggen Grocery Store Burglar (he has an official title now!) had been identified and arrested. In addition, “A search warrant served by Property Crimes Detectives located some very expensive cheese that was missing from the store, as well as cigarettes. The cheese cannot be re-sold by the store, so it was photographed for the case, then donated to the food bank.”

My Northwest included the detail that the cheese in question had been a wheel of Beecher’s gourmet cheese and had been priced at $394.

But still! So many questions remain! How did he get in and out without getting caught? Why, if he knew the police were on his trail, did he go back for something as large and unwieldy as a wheel of cheese? Why did he do it in the first place? We demand answers.

Original post, January 21: On Christmas Day, police were summoned to Haggen Northwest Fresh Market, a grocery store in Auburn, Washington, just outside Tacoma, to investigate a possible burglary. When they showed up, they discovered not just evidence of a break-in, but, hidden near a vent in the roof of the store, a collection of jackets, gloves, tools, and a length of rope.

Over the next few days, employees reported hearing footsteps overhead, and someone saw a pair of legs dangling from the ceiling of a storage closet. No one was spooked, though, or at least they didn’t confide in anyone from KING 5, the TV station that broke the story. Instead they correctly concluded that someone—someone who may have been inspired by The Breakfast Club—was hiding out up in the rafters.

But even though the police were summoned to Haggen Northwest twice last week, and even though they brought in the K9 unit and used heat-mapping infrared technology and spent four-and-a-half hours crawling around in the rafters, and even though store employees keep finding new holes in the walls and ceilings (including over a toilet), and even though they have caught the squatter on video wearing a mask and carrying around a black bag full of thousands of dollars worth of stolen cigarettes, they have been unable to find him.

Illustration for article titled Grocery store squatter-burglar finally busted with large wheel of cheese [Updated]
Screenshot: KING 5 (YouTube)

“It’s very difficult. There are many, many little hiding places where he could’ve been,” Auburn police commander Mike Hirman told KING 5. “It’s such a large store and it’s very crowded with venting and everything.”


Strangely, the police have also found no evidence of a sleeping bag or a tent. Is he climbing in and out every day? Could he be hiding out in other stores? How has he gone nearly a month without being apprehended? Is he Spider-Man? The mystery thickens...

Associate editor of The Takeout. Chicagoan. Owned by dog.



I was guessing that he was homeless and living in the plenum until the parts about how they didn’t find most of the usual signs that someone is actually living there (it’s hard to live interstitially in a crowded public place without inadvertently giving yourself away sooner or later, or leaving evidence should someone look)— and about how he had “thousands of stolen cigarettes.” I’m now thinking he maintains work/life balance by living elsewhere and just sneaking into the store when he needs more inventory.

After years of not knowing any smokers (well, not tobacco, anyway), just a few vapers, I was vaguely aware that coughin’ nails had gotten rather expensive, but was astonished to find out just how expensive. Washington state is one of the most costly places in the country for this habit, with an average price of $8 a pack, $3 of which is tax. Might be more like $10 all-up in Seattle. When legitimate outlets are charging that much {pause to straighten epaulets on Captain Obvious uniform} we may safely assume that there’s a thriving black market.

As for catching him, some of the night-vision “trail cams” used by deer hunters might be deployed... and they should probably take better care to secure the cigarettes, a high-value-density temptation for any sort of burglars or robbers.

A security check of the exterior would also be prudent, though he might well be entering and exiting during normal business hours, blending into the crowd of regular customers, and getting in and out of his hideout through the suspended ceiling in some out-of-the-way part of the store. That would explain the dangling legs — a failure of his scheme for determining whether the coast is clear before going in and out.

Makes you wonder how many other stores have a shrinkage mystery that this might clear up...