“Drugs, anger fueled burglary spree”

"A stuffed animal, believe it or not, may be your best protection against a burglary.So says one convicted burglar.Of all the decoys that homeowners have employed as protection against intruders – lighting timers and operating televisions and radios among them – one of the most effective deterrents may be a large stuffed dog viewed through half-closed blinds."

  • Tuesday, November 23, 1999 8:00pm
  • News

“A stuffed animal, believe it or not, may be your best protection against a burglary.So says one convicted burglar.Of all the decoys that homeowners have employed as protection against intruders – lighting timers and operating televisions and radios among them – one of the most effective deterrents may be a large stuffed dog viewed through half-closed blinds.Equally effective are giant-sized food and water dishes left on the back porch.“The bigger the dish, the bigger the dog, and that’s something I didn’t want to fool around with,” said James Gerard Rode, now serving a sentence of just under 10 years for a burglary spree of north-end Bainbridge Island homes this summer.“That’s one of the best deterrents I know,” he said.Rode, 34, convicted of six separate felony charges last month in Kitsap County Superior Court, is serving his time at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton. He sat for a one-and-a-half-hour exclusive interview with the Review Thursday.While Rode’s plea agreement with the county indemnifies him against further charges related to his crimes on Bainbridge Island, he declined to discuss specific burglaries he committed. He also declined to allow his face to be photographed, saying he was unwilling to bring further shame to his family in Port Angeles.He did, however, share the tricks and techniques he’s employed in 20 years as a self-taught professional burglar – and offered Bainbridge homeowners some valuable advice about how to protect themselves from someone just like him.Rode’s own story is one of a self-determined slide into rampant alcoholism, drug usage and hatred of white people, which he said is common to many of his fellow Makah tribe members in the coastal community of Neah Bay.He broke into homes for the first time at age 13, stealing first for food, then drugs, and later to finance the activities of a gang to which he belonged. In his late teens, he moved to Port Angeles, where he saw better burgling opportunities as a door-to-door salesman.“That primed me for it, because I saw how many people weren’t home,” said the soft-spoken Rode. “I started experimenting with different ways to get into a house, and after while, I could tell if a house (could be entered) just by looking two blocks away.”Rode said every burglar will get caught eventually, and he’s living proof. He spent three years at Shelton for several of his Port Angeles burglaries in the late 1980s, and later served two separate stretches totalling two years in the King County Jail.“I don’t enjoy doing burglaries,” he said. “When I was younger, it used to be exciting. And I kept using the excuse that the white people didn’t feel any remorse over taking over our land, so why should I? “But as I got older, it became a job – real stressful, hard work. It became a way of life for me, a way of paying my bills.”Try as hard as he did to give up his old life, which included emerging clean and sober from a treatment center two years ago, Rode’s past cast a long shadow that stretched this year to Bainbridge Island.He had worked on a fishing boat in Alaska in the summer of 1998 and later found itinerant labor in Seattle, but not enough to pay a $2,300 restitution bill that suddenly sprang up from an old Clallam County burglary conviction.Faced with a demand from his probation officer to pay up by the end of August or return to prison, Rode began looking around on the back roads of Bainbridge during his driving trips across the water as a way of settling his debt. Ironic, he knew – but it was the only way he knew.“I (saw) a lot of people there had alarms but didn’t even engage them. They didn’t have locked doors orwindows,” he said. “It was a real trusting community, and I took advantage.”Rode looked primarily for homes set back from the road on large, isolated tracts during daytime working hours. Night burglaries, he said, carried too large a risk of encountering sleeping occupants.If two vehicles were parked in a two-car garage or carport, he would pass the residence by, he said. If only one vehicle was present, however, he gave the house a closer look. Live dogs only drove him away if they were German shepherds.The first thing he looked for once he was immediately outside the house, he said, were the small stickers on doors and windows indicating that an alarm system might be present.“Alarm stickers are probably the greatest deterrent you can have,” he said.Rode only entered a house if the doors or windows were unlocked – “a guy tried to teach me how to use picks, but I didn’t have the patience for it,” he said – or if the window could be “popped.” Many newer double-paned windows could easily be lifted off their tracks with a flat-bladed screwdriver.Thieves who break things, he said, simply undermine their own cause.“Burglars have to be really conscious about how much noise they make,” Rode said.Once inside a house, Rode said his first act was to mentally map an escape route all the way to his car, usually parked off the road at least a quarter-mile away.He was fairly selective in what he took – gold, silver, collectible coins and precious stones always topped his list. His first stop was usually a ground-floor search for a china cabinet, followed by a visit to the master bedroom. Electronics were avoided, he said, “because they’re so traceable.”Virtually all of Rode’s ill-gotten gains were given over to a “fence” he’d worked with for several years, who would usually pay him $900 to $1,200 per haul from each house, he said. The fence usually disposed of the items on the Internet, often on eBay or other online auction services.The good burglar avoids confrontation at all costs, Rode said. “I’ve had people come in during a burglary,” he said. “I’d just drop everything and run. The last thing I want is to come face-to-face with somebody at home. It’s not worth the risk of whatever might happen next.”Rode’s method was to exit a house within minutes of entry, carrying only one load light enough to run with if need be the case, he said. This modus operandi was in effect Aug. 5, the day Bainbridge Police say Rode burglarized at least seven homes on Agatewood, Henderson and Manzanita roads. The spree came to an end when Rode was spotted approaching the home of his next intended victim.“I remember coming back to my car and seeing a police car parked behind me (on Manzanita Road),” he said. “I backed up, went into the trees and stood there a while. I didn’t know what to do.“After a while I walked back out, and a policeman saw me and yelled at me to get on the ground.”Rode knew the criminal justice system well enough to know that he was facing the longest prison sentence of his life. He recalled sitting in the cell at the Bainbridge police station, as depressed as he had ever been, peeling off his shoelaces and contemplating suicide.“The whole cycle of my life just came down on me,” he said.The cloud stayed with him during two months of incarceration at the Kitsap County Jail, but lifted soon after he was handed his 116-month prison sentence.With time off for good behavior, Rode can be a free man by age 40.He is upbeat about his future, hoping for a transfer to the state prison at McNeil Island so he can learn the sewage-treatment trade and take a job that will keep him from turning back to crime to sustain himself.He has a large support group among the members of his family, many of whom have kicked their addictions and are ready to embrace a better life. “I still have some brains left,” he said. “Now I can use them.”Part of turning his life around, Rode acknowledges, is coming clean about his crimes and expressing concern for his victims.“It’s a long time in here, but I deserve it,” he said. “I don’t complain too much because I know I’ve hurt a lot of people.”#####”

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