It’s fascinating to speculate about what goes on inside a criminal’s mind. Why do they do what they do? How do they develop the skills needed to pull it off?
Charles Collier, a convicted home burglar, doesn’t have to speculate. And in a recent interview at Metro Jail in Mobile, Alabama, he decided to take it upon himself to share his knowledge with homeowners to help them avoid people like him.
“Nine times out of 10, a good burglar is not going to take someone with him,” Collier told WKRG-TV. “I started hanging out with the wrong crowd and was taught how to do it and get away with it. And it was very very prosperous.”
He’s thought through it all — even how to check cars parked in the driveway to determine whether or not homeowners are sleeping.
“You check the hood. See, if it’s still warm, that means they just got home from work. If it’s good and cold, they’re probably sleeping. There [are] lots of different signs you can look for,” he said.
Collier also knows how to disarm a trusty watchdog with some TLC.
“[Good burglars] are going to feed your pet and make it fall in love with them,” Collier said. “I have actually done that before. [I] brought food with me, fed the animal so it wouldn’t bark at me.”
Collier didn’t grow up thinking he would one day become a masterful thief. In fact, he got a rather late start.
“I’ll be honest with you, when I started burglarizing, I was probably 40 years old. Now I’m 43,” Collier said, adding, however, that the planning for his first crime spree actually began a few years before his first burglary.
“I was married for a long time,” he explained. “[I] had three wonderful children, got divorced and depressed. It was right at the recession. I was trying to find work as a handicap, and it was hard.”
Collier is a fisherman, and when business dried up, he turned to drinking. His drinking habit eventually led to a drug habit, which quickly became very expensive.
“Being a drug addict and alcoholic, it’s easy to feed your addiction by trading. You go to the drug man, swap your merchandise,” Collier shared. “Therefore you’re not selling it or taking it to pawn shops. That’s how you can feed your addiction without getting caught. When you take these belongings to the drug man, he has ways of making it disappear easy.”
Collier’s first burglary was of the home of a man he already knew and didn’t like. “I actually went in this man’s home while he was gone. Actually cooked me a steak meal so they knew that somebody felt comfortable in their home," Collier said. "I watched a movie. I drank his liquor.”
But when he went to the back of the house where the man kept his safe, he couldn’t figure out the combination.
“Most of the time, people use a combination that’s something they know real good,” Collier said. “When I was in his backyard, I noticed a little tombstone for a pet they had. I first tried their address, and it wouldn’t work. Then I tried the date of their dog’s death and it cracked the safe. I said ‘oh my goodness!’ The jewelry and the cash [were] unbelievable.”
After experiencing success on his first attempt, Collier soon found himself enjoying a whole new addiction.
“It was a high,” he said. “It’s kind of like meth addicts who cook the dope. They become more high to making the drug than actually using it.”
Collier shared what he learned were prime business hours.
“I would head out between one and four in the morning. People sleep the hardest then,” Collier said.
He even discovered that though wealthier neighborhoods always have the finest merchandise, their elaborate security systems served to decrease the appeal. But poorer neighborhoods had downfalls of their own.
“I would actually go for like a middle-class neighborhood where there’d be real nice homes and then smaller class homes,” Collier explained. “That way when you're traveling through yards, and you’re coming up on that big house, you don’t want to be in somebody else’s yard that has security lights, good dogs...things like that. You want to be able to escape quickly.”
Escaping wasn’t always easy, though, according to Collier. And one too many “sloppy” getaways landed him where he is today — inside Metro Jail.
“I got sloppy you see,” Collier said. “I hate that I victimized people because at one time I was that person, working hard for what I had and to have someone break into my shed and steal my lawnmower or my weed eater. Now looking back at it sober, I look at it with a different mindset.“
Collier spoke candidly to WKRG as he waited for the van to transport him to an Alabama state prison.
“This time’s going to be different because I’m going to make it different,” Collier said. “I’m going to be OK this time. If I tell myself I’m not, then I might as well leave here and go straight to burglarizing again because I will.”
Collier knows that sharing his tactics won’t change his circumstances, but his hope is that his wrongdoing might serve others well.
Front-page image via Shuttershock