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Cat Burglars Tripped Up by Long Paw of the Law

February 06, 1988|BOB POOL | Times Staff Writer

Police say they have broken up an unusual gang of San Fernando Valley cat burglars who were driven by puppy love.

Four teen-age North Hollywood boys were arrested on suspicion of breaking into 30 cars to steal popular Garfield the Cat dolls for their girlfriends, Los Angeles police said Friday.

The boys, whose ages ranged from 13 and 15, prowled shopping center parking lots in North Hollywood and Burbank on bicycles looking for the stuffed animals to impress the girls, Detective Charlie Vaughn said.

They smashed windows to snatch the $20 dolls, which feature grin-and-bear-it smiles and suction-cup paws that stick to car windows, he said.

"All they wanted were the Garfields," Vaughn said. "They left behind stereos, briefcases and, in one case, even a wallet."

The outbreak of stuffed cat-nappings began in late November. The most recent theft occurred just hours before investigators arrested the gang's alleged 13-year-old ringleader on Thursday, Vaughn said.

That boy remained in custody on Friday. The other suspects--two 14-year-olds and one 15-year-old, who were described as "extremely remorseful"--were released to their parents. Because of their ages they were not identified by police.

Investigators said they cracked the case when a boy arrested on an unrelated burglary charge mentioned the cat thieves and their girlfriends.

Six of the stolen Garfields, along with two suction-footed Sylvester the Cats and a similarly sticky-footed stuffed bear, were recovered Friday. Most of them came from a Clybourn Avenue apartment complex where three of the girlfriends lived, Detective Anthony Alba said.

Investigators were trying to keep the look-alike cats separated in evidence boxes. "We don't want them mixed up. We don't want any inbreeding," joked supervising detective Dean Skinner.

The arrests were welcomed by officials of the Brisbane, Calif., company that markets the Garfield dolls.

Reacting to the cat crime wave, Dakin Inc. said it will replace dolls for victims who mail in copies of their police automobile burglary reports. So far, 40 victims have done so, said Cathy Sotir, a spokeswoman for the company.

"We've gotten reports from Kansas City and Seattle, but most came from Los Angeles," Sotir said Friday. "That's L.A. for you. What can I say?"

Vaughn said several Garfield thefts also have been reported in the west San Fernando Valley.

"Those were probably copycat crimes," he said.

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