Police delay response, suspects escape after chase
MATTHEWS – Convinced her son had been falsely accused of breaking into a south Charlotte home, a Huntersville woman followed a tip from one of her son’s friends and located the couple she believes committed the break-in and other daytime home burglaries.
But when Diana Allen, with help from her brother, Ken Allen, and friend Greg Damm, tried to get Charlotte-Mecklenburg police detectives to investigate the couple’s vehicle, they say the detectives refused.
Instead of giving up, the Allens and Damm staked out the red Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, like the one police say the suspects drove, for almost 24 hours in the parking lot of a Matthews hotel. And when a young man and woman tried to drive away, the Allens followed the Cherokee on a brief high-speed chase on Interstate 485 and Rea Road, all the time trying to summon law enforcement officials on a 911 call.
At one point, the young couple stopped their Jeep, and Ken Allen stopped immediately behind him. The young man and Allen got out of their vehicles, but when Allen said police were on their way to question them about the break-ins, the young man jumped back in the Jeep and sped away.
The couple eventually escaped when the Allens’ vehicle got caught in traffic.
A day after the Allens tried to stop the couple, Charlotte-Mecklenburg officers visited the Matthews home where the couple had been staying. According to a search warrant later served at the house, detectives found thousands of dollars in stolen jewelry, electronics and an Italian-made shotgun that police have tied to a number of break-ins at south Charlotte homes.
The couple renting a room at 2024 Hayden Way, identified in the search warrant as Justin Aldrich and Anna Hoard, have never returned to the house, and Allen’s son, Carl Caleb Allen, remains charged with the Jan. 27 break-in at 1901 Sharon Lane – one of four police told the Herald Weekly last week were connected to the suspect vehicle.
Carl Caleb Allen still lives with his mother in Huntersville, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg detectives came to their home Feb. 16 to arrest him. Allen was charged with breaking and entering and larceny, according to the Mecklenburg County arrest log, and placed on a $25,000 secured bond.
Allen has been arrested multiple times in Mecklenburg County, including a number of charges for selling heroin. Diana Allen said last week she understands why police suspected her son in the break-ins: He is a former heroin addict, still under the jurisdiction of the local drug court, and drives a 1996 red Jeep Grand Cherokee.
But she produced papers showing her son has tested clean for heroin several times a month, every month from August to February, the time of his most recent drug test. Those documents also show Allen took and passed a drug test on the day he is accused of breaking into the house, and Allen said he was meeting with a drug counselor during the time police say the break-in occurred. Documentation of that meeting was not made available.
Allen’s drug-court counselor did not return e-mail and phone requests for an interview with a Herald Weekly reporter.
Diana Allen; her brother, Ken; and friend Greg Damm, a Mint Hill resident, are concerned about the way the case has been handled and what they see as the Charlotte police refusing to investigate other suspects in the case even when alerted by her and a Matthews police officer. She points out that detectives found the stolen jewelry in the suspects’ apartment a day after they escaped, and Concord police have since found the couple listed in the search warrant at the scene of another home break-in.
After a Herald Weekly reporter made repeated phone and e-mail requests to Charlotte police for comment, Public Information Officer Robert Fey said police would not comment on their investigation of the couple, whether the couple is connected to Allen and if not, why they are maintaining the charges against Allen.
Damm, a friend of the Allen family for years, summed up their concerns: “I have a lot of questions I’d like answered. Honestly, I feel the system failed us in this case. It upsets all of us. I don’t know if Caleb is innocent or guilty of the charge against him, but I’ve seen enough to have strong feelings that something is wrong here.
“And I believe police should have been willing to check it out. But all they said was they have their man and there’s no interest in this.”
The red Jeep Grand Cherokee
The entire case began with multiple daytime home break-ins in south Charlotte in January and February. Witnesses had seen a red Jeep Grand Cherokee at or near the break-ins, giving police a reason for tying them together.
Investigators seemed to catch a break when an A&B Trucking and Trailer employee discovered some of the stolen property in their Matthews trash bin. Police identified the items as the stolen storage box and personal information of Jean Wilson, whose Colony Road home was burglarized Jan. 19 and tied to the red Jeep Grand Cherokee. But when Wilson got her possessions back, she found a receipt from a Kangaroo Express car wash on Independence Boulevard in Matthews that did not belong to her.
The receipt, dated Feb. 3, eventually resulted in police finding surveillance video of a young man and woman getting their red Jeep Grand Cherokee washed at the Matthews store.
Police knew Caleb Allen drove a red Jeep Grand Cherokee, and apparently, investigators thought he looked like the man on the surveillance video. They charged him on Feb. 16.
Diana Allen found the red Jeep Cherokee after reaching a breaking point. She’d watched her son go through detoxification from drugs and succeed in a drug rehabilitation program ran by Mecklenburg County’s drug court.
She wasn’t prepared to admit her son could be involved in these break-ins.
“I contacted every friend he had from his past who had anything to do with drugs,” she said last week. She thought the couple suspected in the break-ins was supporting a heroin habit, and she figured her son’s old friends might have heard something.
“I got people hanging up on me,” she said. “I got verbal birds on the phone, but finally I got one person who said ‘I’ll call around and try to find out something.’”
Her source, whom she won’t identify, said a couple had been bragging about being “Bonnie and Clyde,” the label given to the break-in suspects by television media. Since police had released a surveillance tape of them at a Matthews carwash, the couple had been parking their Jeep at the InTown Suites motel, at 9211 E. Independence Blvd. in Matthews, and then walking to the house on Hayden Way, which sits across a field from the hotel.
Diana Allen and her friend, Damm, arrived about 2 p.m. Feb. 23 and found a red Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited parked at the motel. Through a law-enforcement source the Allens and Damm won’t name, they confirmed that the vehicle’s identitfication number was not registered to a vehicle in either North or South Carolina, and the S.C. license plate was registered to a different vehicle.
Damm immediately called 911 to report finding the Cherokee that might be connected to the break-ins. A Matthews officer soon arrived at the motel. Damm said he gave the license number to the officer, and the officer told him the number wasn’t registered to a Jeep Cherokee, Damm said. The officer told them someone would contact them and left.
Matthews police spokesman Stason Tyrrell confirmed this week that a Matthews officer responded to the parking lot of the International House of Pancakes, next to the hotel, at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 23. But in his log notes, the officer said the license plate, while not a match to the vehicle, was not previously reported as stolen. The officer did not file a report and most likely referred the case to Charlotte-Mecklenburg officers, Tyrrell said.
Ken Allen, who had driven from Gastonia to help his sister, began a series of phone calls to Charlotte detectives, urging them to investigate the Jeep. The detectives never came, and Damm and the Allens stayed throughout the night in shifts, watching the Jeep from the nearby restaurant parking lot.
Ken Allen also let the air out of the Jeep’s right rear tire, thinking the couple wouldn’t drive away without changing it.
The Allens began calling again the morning of Feb. 24, a Thursday, until a detective finally said: “ ‘We’re satisfied with who we got. We’re not interested,’ and he just hung up on me.”
Around 12:30 p.m., a young man and woman entered the parking lot, walked to the Jeep and drove away with the flat tire. Diana Allen started taking pictures.
The Jeep turned quickly onto I-485 South, with the Allens following. Ken Allen said he exceeded 100 mph keeping up with the Jeep.
After going a few miles, the Jeep pulled suddenly off at the Providence Road exit and onto the shoulder. When Ken Allen stopped behind the Jeep, the young man driving got out, and Ken Allen met him between the two cars.
“I was watching his hands,” Allen said, and his sister was taking pictures from inside their vehicle and had a 911 operator on her cell phone. “If he had reached for anything, I was going to tackle him.
“He said, ‘You got a problem,’ and I said, ‘Yeah I’ve got a problem with you. You guys are Bonnie and Clyde.’
“He said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ and I said, ‘You just sit here. We’ve got police coming and we’ll figure out who Bonnie and Clyde are.’ ”
Without saying anything else, the young man jumped back in the Jeep and pulled away, with gravel flying, back onto I-485. The Allens stayed right behind the Jeep, and it turned off at the next exit – Rea Road.
At a stoplight at the Shoppes at Piper Glen, the Jeep forced its way between cars in each lane and ran the stoplight. Allen couldn’t get between the cars, and then a Highway Patrol vehicle, responding to Diana Allen’s frantic call, passed them, apparently chasing the Jeep.
The Allens never saw the Jeep again, despite searching side streets in several subdivisions. They saw the Highway Patrol trooper driving back toward I-485, also apparently having lost the Jeep.
The Allens returned to the house at 2024 Hayden Way and knocked on the door. No one answered, and they finally went home empty handed.
According to Ken Allen, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg detective called him immediately after the chase, asking for all the information he and his sister had on the couple and the Jeep.
The request for a search warrant only says, “Detective Hepner received information that a young white female and white male are staying at 2024 Hayden Way Matthews, North Carolina and that the same fit the description of the break-in suspects broadcasted on the news.”
According to court records, Charlotte detectives went to the house that day, got the owner of the house to open the couple’s apartment and saw jewelry and other goods inside.
In an arrest warrant filed March 4 for Justin Aldrich and co-defendant Anna Hoard, police say items inside the room were identified by three homeowners as possessions stolen from them over the past two months.
Ken Allen would only change one thing about when he and his sister did on Feb. 23 and 24. “I would have put that young man down when he got out of the Jeep,” he said. “I would have held him until the police had come.”
– Kara Lopp contributed to this story.