One of the busiest burglars in the history of Amherst and Wheatfield has finally been caught, police say.
Brian A. Edwards, 43, of Niagara Falls worked alone and targeted homes that backed up to wooded areas, Amherst police claim. He would use his 220-pound frame to pry open a rear window or door; sometimes five or six homes would be hit in a single night, authorities said.
And he was good at it.
In Amherst alone, residents reported the theft of $175,000 in cash and jewelry from 50 homes. The Niagara County Sheriff's Department is still adding up the take from 40 homes they believe Edwards burglarized in Wheatfield.
But after a year and possibly up to 90 burglaries, the suspect apparently worked one night too many.
Edwards was arrested Saturday when Amherst detectives alerted the Niagara County Sheriff's Department that the suspect was burglarizing another house. He is now in the Erie County Holding Center without bail.
The burglaries started in July 1999 -- a month before the three-time convicted felon finished parole. Edwards has been in and out of state prison on burglary charges since he was 23, according to the state Parole Board.
For almost a year, police had no idea who was robbing upscale suburban homes in Amherst and its northern neighbor Wheatfield. A break in the case came one night in April when a woman in the Willowridge area of Amherst saw a man breaking into a neighbor's home. An Amherst detective chased the suspect, but he got away.
After that encounter, the burglaries stopped. But Amherst police now had a description and they said they identified Edwards as the suspect.
For six months, Amherst detectives tracked Edwards with help from the Erie County district attorney's office and the state, North Tonawanda and Lancaster police. But the suspect didn't do much except go to work as an assistant engineer at a building just a few hundred yards from Amherst police headquarters.
Police finally got a break when the burglaries started again Sept. 9 in the Bramblewood area of Amherst. A detective went door to door and got information indicating Edwards was the culprit, authorities said.
On Saturday, Amherst police said, they tracked Edwards to Niagara County, where they said he parked his car and walked a half-mile to Thornwood Estates, a newer subdivision in Wheatfield.
Amherst called the Niagara County Sheriff's Department, which surrounded the area and arrested Edwards on one count of burglary after they said they found a large amount of cash and jewelry on him and discovered that a home had been burglarized.
"He was moving around so much that unless everyone put their heads together, we would never have caught him," said Investigator Daniel P. Brown, with the sheriff's department.
When police searched the suspect's home and car, authorities said they found sacks of jewelry and old coins. They found more than 80 rings in his car alone. He would live off the cash and probably sold the jewelry a few pieces at a time, police suspect.
"This guy is a prolific burglar," said Capt. Joseph B. Scioli, who oversees the Amherst detective bureau. "He almost had it down to a science."
In the suspect's residence in the LaSalle section of Niagara Falls, police said they found tools for measuring gemstones and determining if a diamond is authentic.
Police are now matching the recovered jewelry and valuables with those reported stolen to prove that the suspect was responsible for the other burglaries. Police will spend about a month sorting through the items and ask residents to be patient -- the police will contact them.