Earlier this year we learned that police in the affluent Peninsula towns of Atherton and Hillsborough were hoping to collaborate with the FBI to nab a crew — or multiple crews — of suspected "tourist burglars" from South America who had hit multiple homes in the area. And a recent uptick in home break-ins in Hillsborough suggests they may be back.
As NBC Bay Area reports, Hillsborough police announced on Monday that four break-ins had occurred in the town since September 8, and the modus operandi of the thieves sounds very similar to the suspected Chilean or South American crews we heard about earlier this year.
In one incident that occurred between September 8 and 13, two panes of glass were broken on a French door and burglars disturbed areas of bedrooms and a home office — though it's not clear anything was stolen, police say.
Last Thursday, another incident in which French door panes were broken took place, and the thieves stolen items from a bedroom. A similar robbery took place in a home on the 1500 block of Wedgewood Drive on Saturday night — a targeted strike in which multiple suspects in hoodies and masks entered the home and stole items from bedrooms.
These kinds of fast, tactical, targeted robberies were what the FBI and local authorities described last winter in Hillsborough and elsewhere.
"Their MO is to get into the master bedroom," said Atherton Chief of Police Steven McCulley earlier this year. "They do a glass break so they don’t trip any sensors, and most people don’t have option alarms near the master bedroom. They’ve been successful with that MO."
The running theory was that crews of Chilean nationals who might be temporarily based in Los Angeles were traveling to areas of concentrated wealth in the Bay Area seeking jewelry and other valuables to steal. The FBI suggests they are from Chile because it is one of 38 countries with whom the U.S. has agreements to use the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which allows travelers to come to the U.S. without a visa for up to 90 days.
Hillsborough police later released video of one such crime, in which a masked crew can be seen on a doorbell camera exiting a home with bags full of items, and getting into a waiting car.
The NBC Bay Area report doesn't mention any of these other earlier crimes, despite the similar-sounding nature of them.
In 2019, police in police in Simi Valley, in Southern California, arrested a group of Chilean nationals on suspicion of multiple home burglaries and car break-ins at local golf courses.
Anyone in the Hillsborough area who has surveillance cameras that may have captured a suspect vehicle in recent weeks — possibly a silver or gray four-door Honda — is asked to contact Captain Nelson Corteway at (650) 375-7552.