Lake Wildwood burglary spree stopped after arrests, says sheriff

When Kelly Lancaster was 7 years old, her grandmother bought her a $10 ring from a five-and-dime store.

The ring had little monetary worth, but it carried plenty of sentimental value. When burglars took it and several other items from Lancaster’s home on Will Scarlett Way, she was devastated.

Lancaster broke into tears Tuesday when she spotted the ring among property recovered from a burglary spree in the Lake Wildwood community. Between January and June, 73 burglaries were reported in the area.

“If I could have picked something to get back, that would have been it,” said Lancaster, now 38.

Bibb County deputies announced the arrest of six people Thursday in connection with the Lake Wildwood heists.

While most of the stolen items have been returned to their owners, a pile of name-brand clothing, jewelry, electronics, pocketbooks and other items were displayed on a table, waiting to be claimed.

Off to one side sat a set of three charms containing old photos of young children.

In order for the items to be claimed, owners must provide a description or serial number, Capt. Mike Smallwood said.

Lt. Chip Wagner said a man who lost a collection of 100 fitted baseball caps to the burglars was able to recover 32 of them after providing a description.

Class rings and a ring from a Georgia Independent School Association championship also were claimed, Smallwood said.

“It was a lot of sentimental stuff,” he said.

Sheriff Jerry Modena said a task force of deputies saturated Lake Wildwood with marked and unmarked patrol cars beginning May 19.

The six people were linked to burglaries in the area after deputies compared incident reports to pawn shop files, Wagner said.

“The same people started pawning items from Lake Wildwood,” he said.

Cecil Kelsey Jr., 30, Shawndrea Taylor, 38, Sharon Patrice Watson, 38, and Veronica Nicole Tufts, 39, all of Macon, were arrested in June in connection with a string of burglaries in the area. Kelsey, who grew up in Lake Wildwood, is Watson’s boyfriend, authorities said. Taylor, Watson’s cousin, was at Watson’s home when U.S. marshals arrived to serve arrest warrants.

Kelsey, Taylor and Watson face multiple felony counts. Kelsey alone faces 18 counts of burglary, 12 counts of theft by deception, four counts of theft by receiving, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, theft by receiving a stolen auto, and a violation of probation, according to the sheriff’s office.

Tufts is accused of pawning items for Kelsey and is charged with one count of theft by receiving, Wagner said.

Sanford Ellis Edwards Jr., 30, and Deonte Rashavius Miller, 18, were arrested in connection with burglaries separate from Kelsey’s ring, Wagner said. Edwards and Miller, who both live in Lake Wildwood, know the other four suspects.

All but one of the burglaries happened during the day while people were at work, Smallwood said.

As a result of the task force operation, no burglaries have been reported in the community since the arrests were made, Modena said.

“We noted almost immediately after we did this that the number of crimes in Lake Wildwood went down,” Modena said.

Cara Barnes, committee chair for the subdivision’s Neighborhood Watch, said neighbors were very “antsy” at the height of the burglary spree.

“They were in real fear of ‘what if I go to work today and come back and find my house vandalized,’ ” she said.

Now that the burglaries have stopped, neighbors are sleeping better at night, Barnes said.

“We can breathe easier,” she said. “We can’t thank the sheriff’s office enough.”

Modena said deputies still are in “deterrent mode” and are keeping a presence in the area.

Neighbors also aren’t letting their guard down, Barnes said.

Wagner said he urges people to write down serial numbers for their belongings.

Neighbors also should watch out for one another, Smallwood said.

“If you see anything, call” the police or sheriff’s office, he said.

Anyone who believes they might own recovered stolen items is asked to call 621-5676.

If the items aren’t claimed in time, maybe a year, an advertisement will be posted in the legal section of The Telegraph and the items will be sold at auction, Smallwood said.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.