By: Richard M. Allor
The buildings in New York run into each other in these awful, horizontal layers of sediment. The architecture in the Bronx looks like some behemoth magician began vomiting out buildings like a rope of handkerchiefs. This particular building stood out to me because it had a multipurpose driveway/courtyard. A courtyard, an alleyway, any sort of side wall to a building usually provides access via a window, a side door, or an air conditioning unit. It has always struck me as ironic that the gates that people put in front of courtyards and alleyways, which are designed to keep people out, are, in most cases, a burglar’s best friend. The people who buy them and have them installed are usually assuming, ‘the bigger, the better’. I’m inclined to agree.
A ten foot gate usually only has one spanner going across it, through the middle, to keep the vertical bars from bowing. This means that if I’m trying to climb over it, I have to tackle the top half of this thing with my only foothold five feet from the top of the gate. If there are only spikes at the top instead of a decorative ridge, I’m pretty much screwed. Now if it’s a big, gaudy, sixteen-foot gate inlaid with decorative ironwork, there are enough footholds in that thing to scale it in a matter of seconds. The biggest gate I ever found was in front of a Sunday School off Gun Hill.
Burglarizing a Sunday school is probably one of the worst sins you can commit. You’re stealing from children and God at the same time.
The success of a burglary is largely about identifying the right point and method of entry. When considering an entry point, you weigh the ease of access against the risk of being seen during a break in at that point. For example, it’s incredibly easy to throw a brick through the front window or glass door of a store and stroll in looking for boot. However, in a city that employs 40,000 police officers, this is asking for a one-way ride downtown in the back of a patrol car. Conversely, you’re unlikely to be seen digging an underground tunnel that comes out underneath your burglary point, but who’s willing to go through that kind of effort to knock off a common merchant?
Shortly after my buddy, George, convinced me of the fiscal advantages of burglary over shoplifting, we used to go out with the tools on hand, looking for a place to hit. George always told me that a church was a great target for a burglary, but only worth hitting on a Sunday night, the reason being that on Sunday they collect tithes and other donations, but the banks are closed so they can’t make a deposit until Monday. Worst case scenario, if you can’t find the money, they usually have instruments or sound equipment. It was this line of thinking that led me to a church for my first burglary.
This church was built on three levels into the side of a hill. There were porches on the bottom and top levels. I didn’t want my point of entry to be facing the street, so I walked around to the back, which only faced the backyards and darkened windows of the houses on the adjacent block. I found a bathroom window downstairs that had light streaming out of it. It looked simple enough to invade. The bars on the window were wide enough to where I could cut one at the top, bend it down, and crawl through.
I pulled out the hacksaw George had equipped me with and put it to the bar. Releasing a deep breath and then holding another in, I pulled the blade from front to back and then pushed it forward once to mark my cut. I pushed it once more lightly to fix my groove in the bar, then I gave the bar a solid stroke at full cutting pressure. The bars, the saw, the teeth, the blade! They let out the most deafening metal-on-metal rip I’ve ever heard. I felt it resonate through my whole body, and it engulfed me in sound and fear. I immediately began to quiver and I felt my stomach twist up. I was sure it could be heard all around me in a two block radius. I looked around wildly at the houses directly behind me, certain that I would begin seeing lights flick on in the windows that were, up to that moment, heavy and dark with slumber.
Then I remembered George telling me, “The hacksaw sounds louder to you than it is.”
And my stomach loosened just a bit. I took a few more ginger strokes at the bar, trying to get a grip on how loud this thing actually was.
“Fuck it. People do this. People do this all the time and nobody wakes up and sees them and calls the cops. You’re here, you’re doing this.”
And I took the plunge. For about ten minutes I sawed and for ten minutes I watched the windows around me. No light turned on. No voice called out to me. Nobody cared.
By the time I made it through the bar, I was dripping sweat into the bandanas on my face. I wanted badly to take them off and catch some air, but I was unwilling to risk being seen by a perimeter camera, so I hurried to crawl in through the window. When I tell people about my criminal history, they often joke that I’m a bit large for burglary. I’m 6’1 and, in proper health, my frame holds just shy of 200 lbs. Of course, when I was committing felonies for drug money, I was not exactly in perfect health. I was closer to 170. I managed to fit through all the holes I made. As I put my feet down onto the floor of the bathroom, I was careful not to land on the toilet or in the toilet. I didn’t want the sound of a toilet breaking to alert any of the neighbors any more than I wanted my leg to be filled with shards of porcelain. I turned around and closed the blinds on the window, hoping that would make my entry point a little less obvious.
I took a few calming breaths to reclaim my senses and take back a small portion of my nerves, and then I stepped out into a dark hallway. I reached into my bag and pulled out a flashlight. I flicked it on and took a look around. I heard George’s voice in my head again.
“Look for doors with padlocks on them. That’s where they keep the money.”
I saw two doors that fit the bill; one just to the side of what appeared to be an office and one at the end of the hallway farthest from me. I walked to the office first, thinking that there might be desk drawers full of money behind the flimsy door. I stuck the tip of my big flathead screwdriver in between the handle of the door and the frame and pulled. The door busted past the inner jamb and opened into the office with a loud pop that echoed through my skull and out into the church’s chambers. Writing this, I can’t help but think how foolish it was of me to begin breaking into offices without first doing a run through the building to make sure it was uninhabited. This is a testament to how inexperienced and naïve I was when I began.
The office held a filing cabinet and two desks with antiquated PCs sitting on them. Rifling through the filing cabinet produced nothing of value, and I didn’t feel motivated to steal the stapler or rubber bands I found in the desks. Moving out into the hallway, it occurred to be to get a bit more understanding of the layout of the floors that had access to the outside, so I explored the staircase across from the bathroom where I had come in. The stairs led down to the congregation room, which offered a double-door exit to the front porch and the street. There was a drum set and a few rows of chairs. I considered taking the drum set, as I knew they have value, but that’s pretty unfeasible. When you’re burgling a joint, you’re looking to steal the smallest, most valuable things you can find. A pile of tiny diamonds would be the best thing you could hope for. A two-ton block of aluminum would be the worst.
I walked up the stairs on the opposite side of the altar and found myself back in my hallway, looking at another set of stairs leading further up. I decided to finish this floor before I tackled the next one, so I turned my attention to the padlocks and pulled my hacksaw back out. As I ripped at the padlocks, it occurred to me how inconvenient it was that these were held on by steel plates with grommets and bolts through them, and that they were at about face level for me, so I was sawing at an awkward angle. It also began to strike me that the adrenaline rush of breaking into this place was fading and I was beginning to feel the first chills of dope sickness running down my back. I knew I needed to get something out of here fast or I was going to have a bad night and an even worse morning. I turned my focus back to the task at hand and finished my cut. I tried to pull the padlock off the latch, and found that the padlock wouldn’t turn. If I had cut it on the side it locks into, it would have. I had cut the wrong part. I let out a sigh and pulled my screwdriver back out. I stuck it through the hoop on the padlock and twisted and torqued, bending the hoop up enough to pull it off the latch. This was it. I had gotten into something that was obviously valuable, based on the padlock and the heavy bolted door. I was ready to grab my sack of money and get out of there.
With relish, I swung the door open to find… a water heater. Oh, and four jugs of fryer oil. That’s it. That is everything that was behind the door. I laughed at my own stupidity, took in a deep breath, and let out a yawn. I was definitely starting to feel like shit. With a new sense of urgency and a little better understanding of technique, I took to the padlock on the door at the end of the hall. This time when I got the door open, I stepped into a room that had a door to another room. The first room was a sort of storage room turned office space. There was a desk with a calendar on it, and there were boxes on shelves along the wall that held various maintenance supplies: paintbrushes, rulers, chalk lines, oil cans, wd-40, and a caulk gun. Stacked against the walls where there was no shelving were bags of potatoes, flour, sugar, boxes of corn-meal, essentially dry-storage. I rifled through the desk and poked my head into some boxes, then opened the door to what turned out to be a kitchen. Sinks, two freezers full of meat, a food prep surface. There might have been an oven. What there sure as shit wasn’t was a bag of money, a pile of diamonds, or even a two-ton block of aluminum, which I would have at least hacked a chunk off of at this point.
On my way out of the room, I noticed that the digital clock on the desk was glowing at me, informing me that it was nearly 4:30 am. This was incredibly disturbing to me because it meant my safe time in the church was coming to an end. Ideally, I wanted to be out by 4:30. I refused to stay later than 5:00. People start getting up for work around then. People might be showing up at the church around then. I didn’t know this place’s schedule and I didn’t want to find out. I threw my tools back in my bag and bounded up the steps to the uncharted third floor.
The steps emptied out into another hallway, naturally, with three doors, none of which were bolted or padlocked. Two of them were, however, behind, steel gates that were fitted into the doorframe and fastened with bolts which had no heads. The gates had their own lock mechanisms, which no doubt dead bolted into the door frame. I opened the door closest to me; it was unlocked. It opened into a bedroom which was, fortunately, unoccupied. The second door was locked behind the gate. I looked down to the third door, at the end of the hallway. There was a large white shopping bag to the left of it, and I wondered to myself if the door was unlocked behind the gate. I walked down and turned the handle. The door opened.
There, behind the gate, was an office which held video surveillance equipment, audio equipment, musical instruments, laptops, an X-box 360, and probably all of the Sunday collections money. I looked at my cell phone: 4:45 am. I didn’t have time to get through this gate. It was more secure than the padlocked doors downstairs, and I simply didn’t have time to figure out my entry point, much less actually break through it.
I looked to the ground in private embarrassment and shame. I took my bandanas and my gloves off, took a few deep breaths, and fingered the shopping bag that was sitting outside of this third door. As I peeled the handle back, I saw that bag was occupied by 5 boxes with prescription labels on them. I read the boxes to myself and threw my head back in laughter and disgust.
“1000 ½ cc insulin syringes 23 gauge .5” needle.”
I tipped my imaginary hat to God for his extraordinary joke, picked up the bag, and walked out the front doors of the church with nothing but 5000 clean syringes I couldn’t afford to dirty.