A sophisticated burglar dubbed the ‘Wimbledon prowler’ has been jailed for 14 years for a string of attacks.
Wimbledon Prowler Astrit Kapaj was called "prolific, persistent, and professional" for his "militaristic" burglary campaign on rich and famous which left whole community terrified.
Asdrit Kapaj targeted the homes of the rich and famous in the affluent south-west London community for a decade.
Victims reportedly included German tennis star Boris Becker and French footballer Nicolas Anelka, who is said to have chased him across a garden.
Kapaj was handed a 14 year sentence at Kingston Crown Court after pleading guilty to 26 offences worth £497,300 when his crime spree was finally brought to a halt by detectives in February.
But investigators believe Kapaj was behind 10 times that number of offences.
Around £5 million in stolen jewellery and cash was lifted from homes in Wimbledon dating back to 2004.
Detectives said 43-year-old Kapaj would travel down from Altrincham in Greater Manchester to raid homes under cover of darkness, getting into houses through an open window, often an en suite bathroom on the first floor, and then search quickly, quietly and carefully for valuables.
His attention to detail included tampering with CCTV cameras, evading alarm sensors and even repainting a window frame he lightly damaged to avoid raising suspicion.
Kapaj’s sophisticated scheme saw him stick to jewellery and cash, shunning iPads and TVs, and to avoid suspicion he would leave many items behind, like taking £600 from a wallet but leaving £200 behind.
Similarly, back at home, he avoided flashy purchases or anything that showed the spoils of his crimes, though police think he may have frittered a chunk of the money away through gambling.
His burglaries were so sophisticated some victims didn’t even realise they had been broken in to.
Suspicion in the area was so rife that home owners sacked childminders, drivers and cleaners they assumed were responsible for the thefts.
Victims describes the "devastating" impact the burglaries had on their lives, with some moving house and others saying they felt like they were "living in a prison cell", installing locks, bolts and extra security.
Clare Calnan, whose home was targeted in 2014, said peace of mind "was the most valuable thing" Kapaj took.
She said: "For years after the burglar's last visit, every time I walked down my path to my door at night, I wondered if he was lying in wait, watching and waiting."
Kasumi Deru, whose home in Drax Avenue was hit by Kapaj in 2015, said she slept with her handbag in her bed following the break-in and has since moved house, the court heard.
Ms Deru said: "Nothing will make me feel safe again."
Rona Cruishank, who had a £2,000 diamond ring and a £1,000 necklace stolen from her home in Somerset Road in December 2015, said she "feels like a prisoner" in her own home.
She said: "Even more devastating than the emotional loss of these cherished items is the impact on my day-to-day life.
"Now I'm constantly suspicious of sounds, lights coming on, movement of the garden tress.”
At the height of their investigation, Scotland Yard had a team of 50 officers working full-time to find the suspect in the crimes, drawing up a suspects’ list of around 60 criminals with a record of burglaries in the south-west London area.
But chip shop worker Kapaj – who arrived in the UK from Albania in the 1990s, and lived in Wimbledon for a few years in the early 2000s – was not among them.
The breakthrough in the investigation came when when DNA technology showed two burglaries committed two years apart were carried out by the same suspect.
Kapaj was arrested in February this year but has never revealed what happened to the money or jewellery he stole, which police have been unable to trace.
Sentencing Kapaj, Judge Peter Lodder QC said: “You are a prolific, persistent and professional burglar.
“Such was your stealth and expertise in many cases it remains a mystery how you gained entry to their homes.
“Not surprisingly, you terrified the whole community.”
Detective Chief Inspector Dan O’Sullivan said: “This offender was really meticulous in how he would commit offences, he was very patient, he would spend time observing people’s houses and wait for the opportune moment to break in, making him a very good villain.
“One of the difficulties for the investigation team was determining how many offences he committed historically.
“What we found was a number of victims weren’t aware they had been broken in to. He was very conscious not to break anything in the house, if he moved things he put them back in place.
“Ultimately people would wake up in the morning, find small amounts of cash or jewellery stolen and then wouldn’t put two and two together and think they had been burgled.”
Resident Laurie Porter, from the Wimbledon Village Safer Neighbourhood Watch panel, admitted she became an “amateur sleuth” in the hunt for the suspect.
She said: “When people didn’t know why their things were going missing they were firing people who were working or helping them in their homes.
“I know of one case where someone asked the cleaner if they knew where this money was going and the cleaner quit because she felt like she was being accused.
“There were many theories about who this person might be, but none of them correct. He (Kapaj) was constantly discussed at dinner parties, out on the street, at the pub – I don’t know what we’re going to talk about any more.
“He (Kapaj) was constantly in everyone’s minds, we didn’t feel safe in our homes. That leads to a state of unease.
“Now, we all set our alarms, we lock our doors, we don’t leave a room with windows open.”