Kristina Czerniachowicz came home that February afternoon and heard a commotion coming from inside her Sunnyside apartment. She tried to get in, but the chain had been drawn from inside. When she finally entered, she found much of her jewelry missing, one of her rear windows ajar and no one to be seen.
Her jewelry box lay wide open. “You just know,” said Czerniachowicz, who is 57 and lived in the building for close to 20 years.
Outside her open window was a sheer drop to the backyard below and though she didn’t see the burglar, she surmised that he or she must have leapt over from a nearby fire escape.
“This burglar is a monkey, young, or a gymnast,” Czerniachowicz said.
And she was only the first.
The acrobatic burglar has been terrorizing residents of two neighboring apartment buildings in Sunnyside, who brought the story of their enduring nine months of repeated crimes by this one culprit to a recent public meeting with police.
About 10 residents of the two buildings at 47-39 and 47-25 40 Ave. appealed to police and elected officials at a 108th Precinct Community Council meeting on Sept. 27. There have been seven reported incidents in the rear apartments of the buildings that police believe are linked to one particular burglar.
Police are baffled and said that they haven’t been able to turn up a suspect because he or she left few clues to work from. Still, those who live in the buildings demand something be done.
“I haven’t been the same since my place was burglarized,” said Shameka Pusey, an associate at TD Bank, who lives on the sixth floor of one of the buildings.
Pusey said that based on how she found her apartment, she believes the culprit squeezed through a small window in her bathroom. Like Czerniachowicz, Pusey came home to find her door locked from the inside and was unable to get in.
According to residents, security cameras around the apartment buildings show that the burglar put on a mask, hopped over a fence into the adjoining backyard, and climbed the rear fire escape to access the apartments.
The precinct’s commander, Capt. Don Powers, said that the burglar hasn’t left enough evidence to come up with a suspect.
“A lot of these guys are slick,” Powers said. “They wear gloves. There are no prints left. They’re smarter than your average bear.”
Police are offering to provide security consultations with any of the residents who request it and even indicated that they may do occasional walk-throughs to ensure that those in the halls of the building are supposed to be there.
Powers said that though the recent spree may be overwhelming to some, it doesn’t indicate a broad crime wave within the precinct area. Crime has dropped greatly in the past 20 years. Burglaries alone have decreased nearly 90 percent since 1990, according to precinct crime statistics. While the total number of burglaries rose from last year to 212, a 15 percent increase, local crime rates have dropped across the board.
“I don’t want people walking away thinking there’s a burglary wave,” Powers said. “That is not the case.”
Although the data give some perspective to the situation, some can’t help but feel the impact of the thefts.
For Czerniachowicz, the burglaries have robbed her of priceless memories. The thief took one of her most precious heirlooms: her mother’s wedding ring.
Her parents lived through World War II in Poland and immigrated to the United States in 1958 when Czerniachowicz was only 4.
“I don’t really care about possessions,” Czerniachowicz said. “I wouldn’t have cared if he took everything in my apartment if he just left mamma’s ring.”