Break-ins and Burglaries

Forensic Services Newsletter

Our appointment to a US$3,500,000 jewellery theft in Kuala Lumpur has prompted this subject for our first 2005 newsletter. When police forces investigate such crimes their attention is directed towards finding the perpetrators and forensic techniques are appropriately focussed in this direction. By comparison, questions put to us by insurers hinge on disbelief. Was there forcible entry? Was the break-in from the inside or the outside? Could a person fit through the opening? Could 3,000 boxes be passed through a 0.5m by 0.5m hole in 80 minutes?

When we began this type of investigation 17 years ago, the work was physical in nature and suited people with a practical bent. Those of us who participate in this work have a history of successful break-ins into our own homes and vehicles and those of friends and neighbours who have similarly lost their keys. Nowadays our mechanical engineers grab these jobs when they come in.

Photograph 1 Photograph 2

There has however been a change over the years, with increasing use of high-tech forms of protection. There are pass cards, surveillance cameras, motion sensors, heat detectors and closed circuit TVs, with varying degrees of sophistication of central monitoring systems. We are yet to encounter laser beams. Our electric and electronic engineers take naturally to this aspect of the work, which is also becoming relevant to deliberate fires.

A collection of our favourite break-in photographs follows. These are biased towards the physical aspects of break-ins, as these make better photographs.

Photograph 3

When we consider the security of our homes and offices, walls convey a sense of impregnability and this causes us to concentrate on securing openings. The problem with this is that burglars create their own openings. Photographs 1- 3 show openings created in walls in three break-ins. In the first two examples the walls were hammered while in the third the wall was drilled. These are most commonly accessed by entering a poorly secured stairwell and working out of sight.

Photograph 4

Many roller shutters are secured on each side with padlocks, but they can be easily jacked up in the centre as in Photograph 4, while the sides remain fastened down. It is surprisingly how small a gap is sufficient for a person to slip through. Much of the deformation is elastic and when the jacking device is removed it can look as if it is impossible.

A third method is through a roof, which many shophouse dwellers have never seen. Cutting through roofing sheet (Photograph 5) is as easy as opening a can. There are often windows that can only be accessed from the roof (Photograph 6), which are overlooked by occupiers because they are considered to be too high for anyone to enter.

Photograph 5 Photograph 6 Photograph 7
Photograph 8

Despect the ease with which entry can be made by choosing a novel way, burglars can prefer conventional entryways, if only because it is easier to remove the goods. In Kuala Lumpur there have been many entries by burglars using oxy-acetylene torches, to the extent that one group is referred to as the 'oxy gang'. Photographs 7-9 show examples of their handiwork. On at least two occasions they have performed the break-in so enthusiastically they have set fire to the contents before gaining entry, having to retire as the fire alarm is raised.

Photograph 9 Photograph 10 Photograph 11

Most grills are hollow sections and lugs can be relatively easily levered away, as shown in Photograph 10 , with variations in Photographs 11-13. Photograph 14 shows a more difficult lug, with the weld beads having to be chiseled first on one side and bent on the other.

Photograph 12 Photograph 13 Photograph 14

A very common way of entry is by the use of a bolt cutter to cut a padlock. No matter how big the padlock, there is a bolt cutter that will do the job (Photograph 15). The only problem is access and much thought is given by owners to placing the padlock where it cannot be reached with boltcutters. There is corresponding effort by burglars to achieving just this. Sometimes all that is needed is the use of metal shears (Photograph 16).

Photograph 15 Photograph 16 Photograph 17
Photograph 18 Photograph 19

Whether boltcutters will fit through gaps and the angle of the cut are factors that need to be addressed when investigating, and Photographs 17-19 show photographs taken in the course of this work. In Photographs 20 and 21 is a jig made to simulate a particular geometrical situation.

Photograph 20 Photograph 21

Note that hot torches, boltcutters and levers are all noiseless. Firemen are also good at breaking in but they are unconcerned about noise. Their weapon of choice is a rotating abrasive cutter, which slices through padlocks, grill and sheet steel, waking everyone in the vicinity.

Once inside, a burglar's work gets even easier as security invariably decreases. Office door locks can be circumvented by punching through plaster walls (Photograph 22) or by forcing weak doors (Photographs 23 and 24). The faith that people have in a chain and padlock is amazing, without regard to what the chain is wrapped around (Photographs 25 and 26).

Photograph 22 Photograph 23 Photograph 24

It also has to be considered that once inside a business on a weekend, burglars have much time to do their work. Photograph 27 shows a safe forced open by the welding of steel plates to form frames on which hydraulic jacks could be placed to apply force. To an engineer or physicist, the arrangement of the plates is a thing of beauty. The burglars kept the jacks so beware!

Photograph 25 Photograph 26 Photograph 27


Barry Dillon