One of the country’s most sophisticated burglars, whose cunning meant he was able to target the homes of the rich and famous for a decade, is to be sentenced for a string of offences.
Asdrit Kapaj, dubbed the “Wimbledon prowler” due to his predilection for raiding properties in the affluent south-west London community, pleaded guilty to 26 offences after his crime spree was finally brought to a halt by detectives in February.
But officers believe the married father-of-two may have been behind 10 times that number, with up to £5 million in stolen jewellery and cash lifted from homes in Wimbledon Village dating back to 2004.
Victims included German tennis star Boris Becker, while he was reportedly chased across a garden by French footballer Nicolas Anelka.
Neighbours said suspicion in the village was so rife that home owners sacked childminders, drivers and cleaners they assumed were responsible for the thefts.
Detectives said 43-year-old Kapaj, a chip shop worker who would travel down from Altrincham in Greater Manchester to commit his crimes, would be forensic in his attention to detail – even repainting a window frame he lightly damaged – to avoid raising suspicion.
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.”
At its height, Scotland Yard had a team of 50 officers working full-time to find the suspect, and had drawn up a suspects’ list of around 60 criminals with a record of burglaries in the south-west London area.
But Kapaj – who arrived in the UK from Albania in the 1990s, and lived in Wimbledon for a few years at the turn of the millennium – was not among them.
A breakthrough only came when advances in DNA technology showed that two burglaries committed two years apart were carried out by the same suspect.
Police set up overt and covert operations in the area, arresting Kapaj in February this year.
He has never told police what happened to the money or jewellery he stole, which police have been unable to trace.
Resident Laurie Porter, who sits on the Wimbledon Village Safer Neighbourhood Watch panel and admitted she became an “amateur sleuth” in the hunt for the suspect, said solving the mystery engulfed the community.
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.”
Kapaj – who is in custody after admitting 22 burglaries, three attempted burglaries, and one count of going equipped for burglary – is due to be sentenced at Kingston Crown Court on Friday. He pleaded guilty to thefts totalling £497,300.
Mrs Porter said: “It was a fantastic result for the police, they have worked so hard.
“There were times I thought they would never catch this man. But I never lost faith that they weren’t trying as hard as they could. We couldn’t be more thrilled.
“I know a lot about this man because I’ve been living with it for 10 years.
“Now I’m glad that it’s over, glad that there will be no more policemen in my kitchen, not that they’re not welcome in my kitchen but it’s been constant over the last few years.
Asked how residents would mark Friday’s sentencing, Mrs Porter said: “I think there might be some parties at the village, some parties at the pub.”
Prosecutor Alexandra Boshell said: “For over a decade, Kapaj remained anonymous.
“In order to avoid detection he tampered with CCTV cameras, evaded alarm sensors, entered via first floor windows and left jewellery boxes neatly back in their place to prevent victims from realising their homes had been targeted.
“Bringing together all the different strands of evidence in relation to each offence was a significant task. However, the strength of the prosecution case, which included large amounts of CCTV footage, often showing the defendant habitually covering his lower face with his hands, meant that Kapaj had little choice but to plead guilty to the charges.”