A former pest control worker is facing charges after breaking into a dozen homes that had been tented for termites, St. Petersburg police said Monday.
David Cooper, 36, is accused of targeting the tented homes beginning in May and stealing a wide variety and large quantity of belongings. Police said he took "anything he could get his hands on," including guns, ammunition, jewelry, electronics, even $18,000 in cash.
"He's brazen enough to go in there and he needed the property that bad and he didn't care," said Detective Brett McKean.
Some of the items he stole were priceless gifts and family heirlooms, including some of the things he stole from Tammy and Eric Prouty's house.
"It was a horrible, horrible feeling of feeling violated," Tammy Prouty said. "It was over 50 items actually that were taken from our house."
Eric Prouty realized something was wrong when he stopped by his house during the fumigation, which began May 19. He said he saw a tent flap open and then noticed someone had broken in through an open window.
"I could see that the back door was wide open as well as the screen to the window," he said. "It was just a sinking feeling knowing that, clearly, that this was a burglary."
Eric and Tammy were devastated when they realized they were missing irreplaceable belongings, such as a coin collection Eric's grandfather passed down to him.
"In our heart of hearts we knew that we would not see those things again and they're just very sentimental things," she said. "They're things you would just go out and buy. I think the hardest thing was when we went to go online to look at all the things that we were missing to kind of get that value, a lot of those things you can't even buy anymore."
Police said they caught a break in the case when Cooper tried to pawn some of the stolen items. Detectives were able to track the sale to Cooper and arrest him.
McKean said Cooper has since admitted to the crimes.
"He did it, he knew what to do and now he's in custody and it was a good team effort," McKean said, adding Cooper told him he even went into the homes without any protection from the poisonous gas. "He told me he had no ventilation mask, no gas mask; nothing. He actually went in with a ski mask-type-thing just to cover his face."
The Proutys are relieved they have gotten some of their belongings back, but are still missing more than half of the items that were missing.
"It was such a blessing and we can't thank the police and everyone enough that what we thought was lost forever we got back," Tammy Prouty said.
"The work that the detective and her team have done to help provide a little bit of closure towards this whole situation, we really, really appreciate it," her husband added.
Officers suggest homeowners hiring a pest control company ask whether the business will have to keep windows open during the ventilation process. Police also said surveillance cameras and a security system are the best ways to keep an eye on a home during a fumigation.