The coin collector came home to find his house ransacked.
Someone had propped open the front door with his binocular tripod, shattered a sliding glass door and turned upside down almost everything in the house.
After he sorted through the wreckage of his Oro Valley home on Aug. 9, Thomas Price estimated that robbers made off with more than $42,000 in rare coins.
“The worst thing is not feeling secure anymore,” Price said.
Oro Valley police have investigated 81 burglaries this year.
At that pace, it would make for the third most reported in Oro Valley for a single year.
Burglary statistics peaked in 2005 at 134. Last year, there were 125.
Even so, the burglary rate per 10,000 residents has held steady since about 2003, even as the town’s population has grown.
“More often than not it’s opportunistic,” Oro Valley Police Detective Wes Helvig said.
Opportunistic thieves hit Price’s house in the early afternoon while he was at work.
Price owns a south side business where he manufactures metal finishing chemicals.
Professional burglary rings are rare, Helvig explained. Most times, victims know who robbed them.
Often police find estranged relatives or friends of teenaged children at fault, Helvig said.
Other times, the evidence points to maintenance workers.
Patterns emerge based on the movement of work crews like landscapers, carpenters or handymen, Helvig said.
Price couldn’t guess who robbed him.
No one knew about his coins and no workers have been in his house.
Even without a lead, police can track burglars in various ways, using high-tech methods or old-fashioned shoe-leather work.
Investigators still dust for fingerprints and detectives still knock on doors.
But today police utilize the advantage of DNA testing. A positive match can lead to a swift conviction.
While physical evidence can lead to identification, tracking down a crook isn’t always that easy.
And more often than not, someone already sold the stolen property.
An Indiana native, Price started collecting coins as a child in the early 1960s.
His father introduced him to the hobby, which quickly became a weekly family ritual.
Friends of the elder Price who worked at a bank let him take sacks of pennies home for the weekend.
Father and son set up the TV trays, watched some shows and sorted collectable coins from the rest.
They replaced the ones they took with coins from their pockets.
“In the ’60s you could still find Indian Head pennies in circulation,” Price said.
Burglars stole a complete set of the coins Price and his dad collected.
A police report valued the items at $30,000.
The U.S. Mint struck the first Indian Pennies in 1859 and stopped production in 1909.
Price couldn’t calculate the worth of another set of coins stolen from his home. Their true value remains rooted in family history.
His dad found the old coins in Germany while serving in World War II. He never knew their origin, but they dated back centuries.
Price has contacted many coin and pawnshops around the state asking them to be on the lookout for his collection. He documented the coins and could trace them if they were sold.
Coin dealers he spoke with agreed to help.
“If someone comes in with the Indian Head pennies and can’t talk coins, they’ll try to stall them or call the police,” Price said.
People can do a number of things to avoid ever having a difficult conversation with police after their valuables turn up stolen.
Preventative measures can make a home a hard target for thieves.
Deadbolt locks and burglar alarms work the best, Helvig said.
Motion sensing and time-set lights can deter would-be robbers. And keeping bushes and trees trimmed near windows and doors can rob a thief of cover.
Steel or wood dowels set in window and sliding-door tracks limit a burglar’s chance to break in.
Detectives constantly tell homeowners to “harden their house,” Helvig said.
But even a well-fortified house like Price’s sometimes can’t discourage thieves.
Burglars pried the entire sliding glass door frame from its opening to get into Price’s house.
He fixed the damaged property but can’t replace his coins.
Price thinks the robbers came in search of his guns. With the coins, the robbers simply lucked out.
“Obviously, they wanted high-powered weapons,” Price said.
He kept the serial numbers of all his guns. Police entered the information into the National Crime Information Center database.
The nationwide database lets police track wanted felons and stolen property and access criminal histories.
But the thieves also stole something police can’t trace when they backed a truck up to his door and drove away with his collections.
“The joy is gone,” Price said.
He doesn’t plan to rebuild his coin collection.
OV Burglary statistics
Year Population Burglaries Rate per 10,000
2000 27,350 53 19.38
2001 29,700 42 14.14
2002 34,050 52 15.27
2003 37,260 91 24.42
2004 37,700 95 25.20
2005 39,310 134 34.09
2006 41,072 103 25.08
2007 42,551 125 29.38
2008 43,610 81(121)* 18.57 (27.75)*