London, June 21: The notorious "Wimbledon Prowler", a prolific burglar suspected of hundreds of break-ins in the plush London suburb, was jailed on Friday for 14 years, having finally been caught.
Through meticulous planning, Astrit Kapaj spent more than a decade defying sophisticated security systems to steal a fortune from houses in the district, also home to the Wimbledon tennis championships.
But a major police operation eventually caught up with Kapaj -- a 43-year-old Albanian national who worked in a fish and chips shop 160 miles (260 kilometres) away.
The ‘Wimbledon prowler’, who carried out a number of burglaries over more than a decade, has been #JAILED for 14 years following a meticulous investigation.#WATCH some of his crimes which were caught on camera, and hear how these relentless burglaries impacted on the community. pic.twitter.com/TVDDsFilm0
— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) June 21, 2019
"You are a prolific, persistent and professional burglar," said judge Peter Lodder as he sentenced him at Kingston Crown Court in southwest London.
"Such was your stealth and expertise in many cases it remains a mystery how you gained entry to their homes.
"Not surprisingly, you terrified the whole community."
His evasion of law enforcement burnished his notoriety, along with his high-profile targets.
They included German tennis legend Boris Becker and French former Real Madrid and Arsenal footballer Nicolas Anelka, who chased the burglar from his house.
Kapaj admitted 22 burglaries, with thefts totalling £497,300 ($635,000, 560,000 euros), in crimes from 2008 onwards.
But detectives believe the married father-of-two may have been behind 10 times that number of offences, with up to £5 million in stolen jewellery and cash lifted from Wimbledon homes since 2004.
The police had up to 50 officers working full-time to catch the suspect.
A breakthrough only came when advances in DNA technology showed that two burglaries committed nearby but two years apart were carried out by the same person. He was arrested in February this year.
- Fisherman's hat -
Police said Kapaj was able to avoid detection for so long due to his meticulous planning, attention to detail and his unusual methods. He would repair any damage he caused and took only smaller sums of cash and valuables at a time, rather than a haul of expensive items.
Kapaj was often spotted on security camera footage wearing the same fisherman-style hat. His lawyer told the court that Kapaj had a gambling addiction and got involved with loan sharks.
Speaking after the sentencing, Laurie Porter, who sits on the Wimbledon Village Safer Neighbourhood Watch panel, said residents would be "delighted" by Kapaj's sentence.
"When people didn't know why their things were going missing, they were firing people who were working or helping them in their homes," she said.
"There were many theories about who this person might be, but none of them correct.
"He was constantly discussed at dinner parties, out on the street, at the pub," she said.
"I don't know what we're going to talk about any more."