Cops stakeout St. Giles church, capture homeless, serial thief

? Detective staked out inside church grabs homeless thief red-handed.

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By BILL DWYER

It seems that Tyrone Harper was just a little too much a creature of habit for his own good. The Chicago man, who gave his address as 218 N. Mason in Chicago, but is more likely homeless, was arrested inside St. Giles Church around 1 a.m. Tuesday. It was the sixth time Harper had allegedly broken into the Catholic church at 1045 Columbian Ave.

According to Oak Park Deputy Police Chief Robert Scianna, Harper, 37, confessed to all six break-ins after his arrest. The Cook County States Attorney, however, has approved charges for just the last two incidents, last night and Nov. 28. Charges on the other four burglaries are pending, awaiting lab test results.

Harper is well known to Oak Park police, though not for burglary.

"He's one of our well-known street solicitors," said Scianna on Tuesday. "He hangs out here all the time. We've picked him up and charged him before for minor stuff."

Harper had apparently tired of panhandling on Oct. 29. That night, according to Scianna, Harper climbed through a closed but unlocked window and took an undisclosed sum of cash from the church offering box. He would return five more times, entering the church in the same manner four of those five times. Church officials were unable to determine any loss stemming from a Nov. 3 burglary. On Nov. 20, cash was again taken from the offering box, and food taken from a donation bin. Food was also taken on Nov. 22 and 28.

Scianna admits that his department was getting a bit miffed at the string of break-ins.

"When one location is hit that often, it's clear that just patrolling the neighborhood isn't going to be effective," said Scianna. "The only way to do this is to take the time and effort to put somebody there."

That's precisely what Oak Park police did Monday night. A detective sat inside the church, waiting for something to happen. At 1 a.m., Harper came calling again. With the detective watching, Harper allegedly broke a window and entered yet again, took some wine from the sacristy, and more food. And walked right into the law's waiting arms.

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