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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Burglar stole more than gold

South Hill resident hopes thief will get the maximum sentence

Dennis Miller holds his crowbar, which a thief used in August to break into some of the wooden coin boxes, like the one at left, in Miller’s South Hill basement.  (Jesse Tinsley)

Dennis Miller had been collecting gold and silver coins since 1950, but this summer he began selling some to help finance a move to a retirement home.

Then Miller and his wife, Bette, returned home two months ago to find their basement ransacked and the coins missing.

Although property crimes aren’t routinely investigated – and only a small percentage are ever solved – the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office located the suspected thief. But so far, only three or four of the rare coins have been recovered.

In this case, the Sheriff’s Office arrested Gary D. McCabe, 45, a prolific burglar who has three cases pending and property crime convictions that date back to 1976, when he was 12.

“This is downright personal,” said Miller, a 67-year-old retired highway engineer. “I was 7 years old when I started this collection.”

Miller, who volunteers his time to make wooden Christmas toys for children, had modern American currency, several gold and silver coins, and coins from the U.S. Mint dating to 1960.

Asked how much his collection was worth, Miller said, “It’s a big number. It also has a lot of sentimental value. It was a lot of work. But the biggest thing is the loss of the sense of security and the state of mind.”

Miller said he and his wife don’t feel as safe in their home as they used to. They have moved all their other valuables to a safe-deposit box.

“You always wonder, ‘Is there another Gary McCabe on the other side of the door?’ ” Miller said.

Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Bob Sargent declined to comment. But according to court records, McCabe faces an Oct. 25 trial for both the coin theft and another residential burglary on Oct. 1, 2009, on South Glenrose Road.

In that case, witnesses saw a man walk up to the Glenrose residence, look around and then force the front door open with his shoulder. The neighbors called sheriff’s deputies. Sgt. Dave Reagan, who also works as the Sheriff’s Office spokesman, arrived on scene and apprehended a suspect matching the description given by the neighbors. It was McCabe.

McCabe posted a $30,000 bond and was out of jail for several months before the Millers’ house was burglarized Aug. 12.

On that day, Dennis and Bette Miller left home about noon to eat lunch. A neighbor noticed a red Dodge Neon with a woman at the wheel parked in the couple’s driveway. The car left 30 minutes before the Millers returned.

After discovering the theft, Deputy Brandon Armstrong spoke to the neighbor and learned that he got a partial license plate number from the Neon. On Aug. 20, Armstrong was reading a daily criminal intelligence flier instructing deputies to be on the lookout for Gary McCabe, the registered owner of a red Neon.

Armstrong drove to McCabe’s home on South Regal Street but didn’t find his car. The deputy began researching known associates of McCabe’s and found a listing for Sonja L. Mercer, who had an active arrest warrant for reckless endangerment, court records state.

Armstrong drove to Mercer’s address and saw the Neon parked in the driveway. Armstrong watched as McCabe got in to leave. The deputy then pulled the car over.

When Armstrong searched McCabe, he “removed a folded certificate from McCabe’s left breast pocket. The certificate was the ‘Certificate of Authenticity’ for the Congressional Silver Coins.” Next to McCabe on the seat was an empty coin box that Miller later identified as one stolen from his home.

McCabe faces five to seven years in prison if convicted. His attorney, Doug Phelps, did not return two phone messages seeking comment.

While Miller believes the case against McCabe is solid, detectives only recovered three or four coins. Miller said he’s had discussions with the prosecutor about offering a lighter sentence if McCabe returns the coins.

Miller said he’d like the coins back – but he’d rather see McCabe spend the maximum time behind bars if he’s found to be guilty.

“They showed me what he had stolen. He must have had 10 cell phones in that case,” Miller said. “He’s not good for the neighborhood.”