JULINGTON CREEK, Fla. – Deputies are working to find a car burglar in St. Johns County, and they are getting some help from one of the victims' neighbors -- and her home security camera.
The burglar didn't have to work very hard, because she had plenty of unlocked cars to raid in the Julington Creek Plantation neighborhood.
A quick drive through the Stonebridge community reveals a nice, well-kept neighborhood that's a target-rich environment for thieves who want to steal from parked cars.
One of the victims, who asked to be identified only as Ashley, said she is the mother of a newborn and happened to leave her car unlocked in her driveway earlier this week.
"I opened my center console and saw a bunch of stuff was taken out,” Ashley said. “A bunch of stuff was misplaced, and all of my gift cards and some cash that I had in my center console was gone as well."
Ashley immediately thought of her neighbor, Monica, and her home security cameras.
When Monica pulled up the video, she could not believe how she saw the thief acting.
"She wasn't afraid to get caught,” Monica said.
There are 15 full minutes of video from 12:30 to 12:45 a.m. Thursday, showing what appears to be a woman carrying a flashlight, casually going from car to car in the small cul de sac and opening one unlocked door after another.
“I'm sure she's probably getting away with it because people think, 'Oh, it's just a mom,' you know,” Monica said. “(She's) cleaning out her car when the kids are sleeping."
In the video, the woman can be seen getting back into her own car and lighting up a cigarette before she takes off, apparently with the loot she lifted from the invitingly unlocked cars.
But the crime of opportunity was also a crime of high risk, because more and more homes have security cameras.
"Every little piece that we get is one more piece to the puzzle that leads us to solving it and leads us to successful prosecutions,” St. Johns County Sheriff's Office spokesman Cmdr. Chuck Mulligan said.
In the meantime, Mulligan reminded citizens of the best way to prevent the crime.
"If we could simply ask individuals to remember to hit that little button as they walk into their house at night, it would solve a lot of the crime trends that we have in St. Johns County,” Mulligan said.
Police call that trend car-hopping, and it's been around for a long time.
A lot of people may have been victims and don't even know it, because the thief didn't clean their car out completely.
Deputies are hoping to close the case soon if anyone recognizes the person in the video.
Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-888-277-8477.