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Shores burglar sells rare stolen letters to local antique shop

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN, (Week of September 13, 2012)
Photo of Sebastian Antiques on U.S. 1.

Sebastian Antiques, a shop on US 1 with a sign in the window that says “Top Dollar.  Immediate cash,” paid a burglar $380 for goods stolen from an Indian River Shores home that included two valuable letters signed by Aaron Burr, according to police.

The investigation might be called the case of the purloined letters because of the odd twists and turns the two valuable letters took after being stolen by a burglar who broke into a riverfront home in Pebble Bay on June 18th.

Along with them, the thief also took a New England banjo clock and barometer from the early 1800s and a carriage clock from later in the century. But it is the letter heist that tells the most interesting cautionary tale.

The letters in the home of Leslie and Robert Abbott were in dime store frames to detract from their value. The alleged thief, Carole Ellis, 32, said she didn’t realize what she took. The Abbotts wonder, then, why she chose yellowing papers in cheap frames and old items over jewelry.

“She seemed to be telling the truth about her lack of knowledge,” said Det. Shawn Hoyt of the Indian River Shores Public Safety Department, who interviewed Ellis in jail.

Then, again, Ellis did grow up in a “nice barrier island home” according to Hoyt. Nice enough so that when he questioned her in jail about the crime and other break-ins, she immediately confessed to three, and asked if she could send apology letters to the victims.

Ellis’ arrest after the June burglaries for illegally-held oxycodone pills and crack might explain why she sunk so low: She was desperate for money to feed an addiction, she told Indian River Shores and Vero Beach Police who worked the case together. In late August, while still in jail for drug possession, she was charged with two of the thefts.

Besides the Abbott’s valuable antiques, Ellis said she also stole jewelry from a home on Club Drive including a diamond ring valued at over $5,000. She described the circular driveway of the home, belonging to John and Patricia Kotecki, and said she broke into a third home in Castaway Cove and also stole jewelry.

Her methods were always the same: She chose houses shrouded in shrubs and trees on inlets because, she told police, it was harder for neighbors to watch, and “people in waterfront homes with nice landscaping usually have fancier things.”

She drove to the homes and got in the backyards, climbing fences or opening unlocked gates. She found low, small windows, which she broke and crawled through, leaving clear palm and finger prints on two tile floors which police used to eventually identify her.

On June 19, she headed to Sebastian with the Abbott’s letters and antiques and almost $11,000 in jewelry from the Koteckis.

First stop: Sebastian Antiques on US 1, which has a large sign in the window next to a few tiki heads and dusty, red glass bowls that says “We buy gold. Top dollar. Immediate cash.”

She was greeted by owner Mark Karpinski, who gave her $80 for the two clocks and the barometer and $300 for the two letters, with no questions asked.

The letters had been handed down for generations through Leslie Abbott’s family. US Vice President Burr, most famous for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel and being charged with treason, had been the lawyer for family property.

Karpinski said he put everything out on the shelves for sale. Within days, he told police, a man from West Palm Beach or Miami showed up and bought the two letters for $600 in cash, with no questions asked.

Karpinski told police he didn’t know his name or anything about him. No phone number or address. Nothing.

Poof! With no record of any kind, valuable historical documents stolen from the Abbotts’ home disappeared into thin air.

“I feel bad about it,” Karpinski told Vero Beach 32963.

But his wife Betty Karpinski saw it differently: “We did exactly what’s required of us as antique dealers, which is nothing,” she said.

She then yelled at a reporter to get out of her shop immediately.  “Sorry,” said Mark. “I’ve got to go home with her tonight so I’m going along.”

Apparently, antique shop dealers are not held to the same reporting standard as pawn shop owners, though some – unlike the Karpinskis – are meticulous in their record keeping and reporting.

With $380 in cash in her pocket from the antique sales, Ellis then headed a few blocks down to Blue Water Gold Buyers, a quasi-pawn shop.

There, Ellis was greeted by owners Deedee and Margie Pritchard, who paid $340 for three rings, four bracelets, hoop earrings, cuff links and a necklace, stolen from the Koteckis and valued at about $11,000.

But before giving Ellis the cash, the Pritchard sisters copied her driver’s license, photographed her face and got a thumb print from her.

As Ellis drove away with a total of $720 in her pocket from both shops, the Pritchard sisters entered the information in the computer on Pawn Web, a website regularly checked by police.

But it would be eight weeks before police would make the connection between Ellis and the merchandise because that’s the time it took for the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office to track the prints from the two homes to Ellis, who was still in jail on drug charges. Between June 18th and June 29th, when Ellis was arrested on the cocaine and oxycodone charges, six homes were broken into – four island homes and two on the west side of the lagoon – all entered through small windows on the water.

But Ellis said she didn’t break into these homes and didn’t know who did.

Because another island home on Tradewinds on a canal was broken into in the same manner a few weeks ago, while Ellis was in jail, her insistence suddenly holds more weight.

At Sebastian Antiques, Shores police found the banjo and carriage clocks, along with the barometer, still on the shelf. They returned them to the Abbotts.

As for the Kotecki jewelry, Deedee Pritchard said they held it for over two weeks but when police didn’t contact them, they melted the gold down and sold it. But Deedee, who is in north Florida with their sick mother, said she may still have the diamond.

“We get a lot of jewelry, but I think I might have kept it,” she said. Only the Burr letters seem to have disappeared into thin air.