ST. PETERSBURG — Police have arrested one man and are searching for another suspect accused of burglarizing several homes that were tented for fumigation in the last five months.
Christopher Alexander, 25, was charged this week with six counts of residential burglary, St. Petersburg police said. Three of the cases are connected to burglaries at tented houses.
In the past five months, 12 homes in St. Petersburg were burglarized while they were enclosed in tents for fumigation by pest control companies, police said.
Alexander allegedly confessed to participating in at least one of the burglaries, but not all 12. Fumigated homes are tented to contain poisonous gases inside.
With no residents home, Alexander said, he would don a painter's mask and break into the houses. But the mask would not have prevented him from inhaling toxic fumes, said St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz.
In fact, he said, Alexander admitted to becoming physically ill from entering a tented house.
Puetz said burglaries of tented homes crop up in spates.
"It seems to occur in clumps and usually because one or two individuals have decided to risk their health and break into places like this," he said.
A tent is an obvious sign that a house is empty. Still, most thieves will search for easier targets – unoccupied homes not filled with poisonous gases.
"Most burglars are going to be very reluctant to do what these guys have done just out of fear for their own health," Puetz said.
Alexander is suspected of snatching numerous items from some homes, indicating he may have spent several minutes inside.
On June 14, he allegedly entered the house at 200 52nd St. S when it was being fumigated, according to an arrest report. Inside, he grabbed a handgun, two televisions, two bicycles, a Blu-ray player, an Xbox, and some jewelry, according to the arrest report. The total haul was valued at about $4,590.
Some of the items were later found at Alexander's home, authorities said.
He was caught after officers responded Monday to a call about a burglary in progress at 4235 32nd Ave. N. They saw a man, later identified as Alexander, trying to enter the home through a back door. He ran away, but a canine unit officer tracked him to a nearby garage.
Alexander was hiding in the rafters, police said.
His wife, Candice Marie Alexander, allegedly tried to sell some property from one of the burglaries in late June at an antique store. She was charged with dealing in stolen property and violation of probation for grand theft, police said.
Christopher Alexander then became a suspect.
Investigators are looking for another man, Michael Murphy, 36, who they believe helped Alexander in several of the burglaries. Murphy is 5 feet 10 and weighs about 145 pounds, according to police. He has red hair, brown eyes and tattoos of a tiger on the inside of his left forearm and a dragon on his right forearm.
St. Petersburg police are ask anyone who may know where Murphy is to call (727) 893-7780 or to text (727) 420-8911. To leave a confidential tip, call (727) 892-5000.
Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8804. Twitter: @zacksampson.