Police are connecting a string of multi-county business break-ins involving thieves who disarm alarm systems before stealing money safes.
Law enforcement officials have suspects in the break-ins, and they say those suspects are professional thieves who were arrested in the past for similar crimes.
Break-ins at Dollar General stores in Claremont and Conover were reported in the past several weeks, which led police to think those break-ins are related to a string of similar crimes in Burke and Caldwell counties.
"We're looking at the possibility (of the crimes being related)," said Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid.
The culprits appear to be professionals, and they "definitely know what they're doing," according to Reid.
An employee at the Claremont Dollar General on Centennial Boulevard discovered a break-in at the store Jan. 3. The business' front and rear doors were damaged, and telephone wiring in the store was cut to disarm the burglar alarm, said Claremont Police Capt. Gary Bost.
Bost said police are investigating several area break-ins of Dollar General stores and an Advance Auto Parts store as possibly related crimes.
Suspects broke into the Claremont store's safe and stole an undisclosed amount of checks and cash. The thieves also damaged the store's bathroom plumbing when they attempted to remove the safe from the wall.
Bost said about six police agencies are involved in investigating the break-ins, but no arrests have been made. Reid confirmed that multiple agencies are involved in the investigation, and he said detectives are working to make an arrest in the crimes.
Another similar break-in happened in Conover on Jan. 23, when an employee at the Dollar General store discovered evidence of a break-in as she opened the store for business.
The people responsible for the crime caused $2,000 in damage by cutting the store's telephone wires. They also stole the store's security footage, so investigators have no audio or video of those involved in the crime.
Bost, however, said there is footage of suspects in another break-in. Investigators are processing that footage for more information.
A Morganton Dollar General store, located on East Fleming Drive, was broken into on Nov. 2. Like the Claremont and Conover break-ins, the thieves involved in the Morganton incident cut the store's security wires before gaining forcible entry into the building. The culprits then allegedly damaged the store's safe and made off with an undisclosed sum of money.
The Advance Auto Parts store on U.S. 321 in Granite Falls was broken into in January. It is unknown if that incident is related to the Dollar General break-ins.
Reid told The O-N-E in January that the people responsible for the Conover Dollar General break-in appeared to have some knowledge of the store before the break-in occurred, which gives further credence to the theory that the suspects were involved in more than one Dollar General break-in.