Updated 4:55 p.m.: Authorities with the Texas County Sheriff’s Department recovered more stolen items Friday morning after searching an Elk Creek man’s property, and by late afternoon they were en route to a Cabool storage unit for more missing items.
Gary Heaslet, 55, and his 16-year-old grandson are accused of stealing from more than 110 storage units across the region. Sheriff Carl Watson said the number of units is growing by the minute and includes the communities of Houston, Cabool, Mountain Grove, Willow Springs and West Plains.
Watson estimated the crime spree had been going on for weeks. He expects more communities could be involved.
Heaslet, who is being held at the Texas County Jail, is scheduled to be transported to Howell County today, Watson said. Heaslet is charged with five counts of burglary and one count of vehicular assault. Bond is set at $25,000.
The teenage boy was taken to a juvenile center in Mountain Grove.
Shortly after 4 p.m. Friday, Lt. Melissa Dunn of the sheriff’s department said authorities were en route to a Cabool storage unit, where more stolen items were believed to be hidden.
Among the initial items recovered – which filled two trailers – were bicycles, fishing equipment, a riding lawnmower, air conditioner units, tool chests, extension cords and firearm from California, where the suspect previously lived. Watson said the handgun was reported stolen in 1973.
Watson said $1,000 in stolen cash was also found inside the residence, located on Lebanon Road. Three air conditioners were later found at an area pawn shop. A trailer that was reported stolen in November 2007 was also recovered.
Authorities were led to the thieves just after dark Wednesday, Watson said, when the owner of a Willow Springs storage unit arrived to find several nearby units had been broken into. He saw the suspects’ vehicle and jumped onto the hood. He was carried for a distance on the vehicle and although he didn’t stop them, he got the license plate number.
The man contacted Willow Springs police, who called the Cabool police department. Texas County authorities were then alerted and travelled to the Elk Creek residence that matched the vehicle’s license plate number. Heaslet was arrested around 10 p.m.
Watson initially estimated more than “110 known property owners from several units in several towns” missing items. He said Friday afternoon that the number is growing, and he is uncertain where it will end.
The trailers containing the items were unloaded Thursday morning into the multi-purpose room at the Texas County Justice Center, where some property was identified by owners. Several items still remain.
Watson said several property owners initially recovered only a portion of their missing property, leading authorities to believe more items may still be on Heaslet’s property.