Thanksgiving break is high-time for “Pillowcase Bandit”

Story by Eric Christenson, Editor in Chief

For a lot of people, Thanksgiving break means going to home to family, friends, food, football and floats. But for Eau Claire’s so-called “Pillowcase Bandit,” it means lots of empty houses full of little things to steal: Not jewelry, TVs, stereos and the like, but rather coins, DVDs and fresh food.

The way the Bandit operates is that they will enter through an unlocked door or window, take a pillowcase from a pillow in the house and fill it with small items and leave, often when the residents are gone.

The Bandit doesn’t go for the big stuff — stuff with serial numbers — but they’ve been known to target little things that could easily go unnoticed.

Police have said that breaks for UW-Eau Claire students are a trendy time for the Bandit to strike, and this Thanksgiving break, Eau Claire Police Community Relations Officer Kyle Roder said they are taking precautions.

“We don’t add patrol or anything, but our patrol officers are familiar with the activities that we’ve had over the breaks over the past several years,” Roder said.

Roder said that the Eau Claire Police Department has a crime analyst that tracks the robberies and reports them to patrolling officers to help them take necessary steps in order to proactively patrol different neighborhoods and make them safe.

“Really what we’re doing is we highlight the areas that we’ve really had issues with, where everything points to or ones where we may have some concerns, and the patrol functions off of that basis,” Roder said.

Junior Matthew Wenaas and his roommates suspect they were robbed by the Bandit in early October when they found most of their change had been stolen. Wenaas noticed a pillowcase that was on the floor was gone and they later found that cans of tuna had been taken from their pantry.

Having such little things stolen didn’t really bother Wenaas, but he said that’s not all it is.

“It’s kind of scary just for the fact that someone is in our house and someone is going through our stuff,” Wenaas said. “That’s the scariest part.”

In 2010, police went public with information about the Bandit in hopes of both crowdsourcing a solution to the problem, maybe throwing off the way the Bandit operates and perhaps giving it so much publicity that the crimes stop.  However, Wenaas’ incident happened a little more than a month ago, and there have been others.

Senior Trent Stobeck said that his house was burglarized about a week before the semester started in a way that’s very characteristic of the Bandit.

Stobeck said they had just been robbed of change, but it’s less about the change and more about the trespassing.

“You don’t like knowing someone’s in your house,” Stobeck said. “At least he didn’t take anything valuable. Still, it’s uncomfortable knowing he was in our stuff.”

If there’s any good to the Bandit’s actions, it’s that they’re teaching their victims to take necessary precautions when leaving their house like locking windows and doors.

Wenaas said that after being robbed, he and his roommates are getting better and better about securing their house when they leave.

“We think more about locking our doors now and we’re just more aware of our stuff,” he said, but added that the stolen items were too trivial to act on.  “We just let it be. I don’t know what else we can do really.”

Roder said that for police, it’s a big help stopping the crimes before they happen. In 2010, police issued a few tips for keeping your house safe from intruders no matter how minimal, including: Writing down serial numbers of property you own, telling your neighbors when you’ll be gone and even installing video surveillance.

“A lot of it is just locking your doors, locking your windows, telling your neighbors to help watch out for your house,” Roder said. “That’s the biggest help for us.”