Barrie man faces 279 charges over church break-ins

Chatsworth, Canada - After many frustrating months hunting for a man dubbed the Church Bandit, investigators may have finally got the break they needed in a few drops of blood.

Ontario Provincial Police announced yesterday they had arrested a suspect and laid almost 300 charges in a string of thefts in churches dating back to 1999.

A 49-year-old Barrie man faces 279 charges related to break-ins at churches and community centres across Ontario.

Well over 100 break-ins at churches in the five counties around Waterloo Region have been reported since January, including some where a thief struck eight places of worship in one weekend.

"We're very happy to have him behind bars now," Sergeant Dave Rektor said. "It's been an exhausting investigation."

Evidence left behind at a crime scene in April led police to one suspect, he said.

Rev. Reid Chudley of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Hillsburgh, which has been broken into twice since January, said police told him it was blood they found.

The thief was apparently cut breaking into a church, and investigators were able to analyze the blood at the scene. They found a match in their criminal database.

"Evidence that was conclusive to this person led us to believe he was responsible," Sgt. Rektor said.

The charges mark the end of a five-month investigation that had police detachments across Southwestern Ontario paying special attention to rural churches in their areas.

Officers began patrolling churchyards at night, and citizens were asked to report suspicious activity. Some congregations bought alarm systems and started locking their office doors and windows.

All the pressure to solve the case led police to find 40 other people suspected in similar break-ins. Investigators laid an additional 250 charges against them.

While most of the church break-ins have occurred since January, police allege the same person may be responsible for robberies committed almost 10 years ago.

The thefts usually involved cash or small items that could be easily carried and pawned for money. Barry Barnes is to appear in an Owen Sound, Ont., court on June 2 for a pretrial hearing.