Larry LaRue: $1 million jewelry heist shatters Puyallup store owner

Puyallup store owner’s losses compounded by the losses of her customers

Staff writerJune 15, 2014 

Lesa Catt arrived at her Puyallup jewelry store the morning of June 2 to find the police waiting.

The home loan business next door had been broken into, and it appeared whoever had done that had also gained access to Catt’s Gold Definitions.

“I let the detectives in and went to my office and everything looked fine,” she said. “Then I opened the safe. There was a hole in the back of it, and it was empty. I just fell to my knees — that’s a vision I’d like to get rid of some day …”

Total take: About $1 million worth of gold and jewelry.

“In terms of street value for a burglary, this would be at the top of any list for us,” Puyallup Police spokesman Scott Engle said.

The burglary was a sophisticated jewel heist that evaded Catt’s security system. It began when the thieves got into a vacant suite next door, entering through the roof. Using a cable spy camera poked through the wall, they made three tiny holes and found where the safe was.

Since it was against the far wall, police say the thieves went back to the roof, crossed over the top of Gold Definitions, and broke through the ceiling of the home loan business on the other side.

Once inside, they poked two more small holes in the wall for their camera, then a larger hole directly behind the safe.

From there, the thieves put a sizeable hole in the safe itself — and removed everything.

If it had just been Catt’s inventory, she said she could have accepted it.

“We’ve been in business for 19 years, and our inventory was just … things,” Catt said. “My heart bleeds for our customers. What they lost cannot be replaced.”

Gold Definitions, in the 4600 block of South Meridian, doesn’t just sell jewelry. It repairs and cleans, appraises jewelry, creates one-of-a-kind items.

“We had four boxes in the safe — a ‘done’ box, for completed work; an ‘order’ box for jewelry that work had been ordered but not completed; a repair box; and a layaway box,” Catt said. “They took all of them.”

That first day, she and her husband, Jeff, and their seven employees — most of them part time — began combing through customer records.

On Tuesday, they began working the phones.

“Every call was a new tear,” Catt said.

They found nearly 90 people who’d brought jewelry in for repair. Each had a story.

“One woman had two rings soldered together for a June wedding. Now we’re trying to rebuild that ring for her, and they’ve put the wedding back until August,” Catt said.

“One gal was going to wear her grandmother’s pearls at her wedding. They were more than 50 years old. How do you replace that for her? We’re looking for estate jewelry, trying to match the age of the pearls to replicate the originals.”

“Another customer lost her daughter four years ago, and wanted a ring of her daughter’s fastened to one of her own,” Catt said. “Now they’re both gone.

“There were so many heart-wrenching losses.”

Catt said the store has detailed descriptions of the jewelry, and in many cases customers have photographs. That’s allowed her and the staff to begin the process of replicating pieces for clients who want that done.

Insurance, she said, will likely cover about $240,000 in retail costs. Why so little?

“We weren’t insured for the full value of our inventory,” Catt said. “No one expects to lose it all. We were insured against robbery, against the grab-and-run kind of crime. A million dollars worth at one time?”

The store had seven security cameras, motion sensors, alarms on both doors. The cameras picked up one small hole being poked in the wall by the thieves’ camera.

“We have been contacted by authorities in Texas, Florida, California,” said Engle, the police spokesman. “This fits the MO of cases they’ve been working. It’s a minimum of three people, one who stays in a truck outside, and we think they used walkie-talkies.

“In a sophisticated operation like this, the complexity of getting any of the jewelry back is high,” he said. “They could be moving it all in Chicago or New York or doing it one piece at a time in Pierce County.

“We’re still working the case. These guys didn’t leave much behind.”

Catt says she hasn’t slept through a night since the burglary.

“My feelings don’t matter — I’ve been on autopilot during the days, dealing with so many victims,” she said. “At night it hits me, and I can’t sleep. It’s almost like a death in the family. I can’t stop crying.”

Larry LaRue: (253) 597-8638
larry.larue@thenewstribune.com

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