HUTCHINSON, Kansas (AP) — Authorities in south-central Kansas are investigating several burglaries at rural elevators, but they say the crimes are difficult to solve because of the rural locations and the trusting nature of elevator owners.
The thieves are taking cash, tools and equipment, probably to sell online or to get money for drugs according to authorities.
Dustin Cooke, an investigator with the Kingman County Sheriff’s Department, said at least 15 burglaries reported in recent months at elevators from the Colorado border to Kingman County have involved the theft of tire changers.
Reno County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Steve Lutz said no one has been arrested in the burglaries, and none of the stolen items have been recovered.
The same person or group of people apparently is responsible for most of the thefts, based on what is being stolen, Cooke said.
“All counties involved are sitting at the same place in our investigation,” he said. “We don’t have any leads. They are all similar in what has been taken, but we have nothing to go on.”
Sedgwick County Deputy Sheriff Joel Blogref, who operates the Construction Agriculture Livestock Information Network, which publicizes suspicious rural activities, said the thieves must have a market for some of the unusual items they have taken. A Coats-model tire changer, similar to one stolen at an elevator in the Hamilton County town of Kendall, can be worth between $1,000 and $2,000 on eBay.
“It’s a question we can’t answer,” Cooke said. “It is a very odd type of theft. Resale is the only thing that comes to mind.”
Blogref said he suspects most of the thefts are to raise money for drugs.
“I always attribute most of this stuff to meth,” he said. “It is that big of a problem — drug addiction in general. If you are addicted to drugs, you can’t have a steady job. You can only pawn your own stuff so long.”
Part of the issue is the solitude of farm country, as well as the trusting nature of residents in those areas.
“They are always a potential target, given the rural nature of the business,” said Scott Anderson, chief operating officer with Hutchinson-based KFSA, which provides insurance and risk management to Kansas elevators.
Reno County’s Lutz urged elevator operators to help thwart the thefts.
“Don’t make it easy for them,” he said. “Try not to be a victim, by making sure stuff is locked up and out of view. Locks keep honest people honest.”
Anderson said elevator operators should have a closing time inspection program, use security cameras and install adequate lighting. He also suggested background checks and drug testing of employees and the use of deadbolt locks and security systems.