Several law enforcement agencies are investigating a high number of auto thefts from multiple dealerships in southeast Missouri. Reports of dealership thefts have increased, and many appear to involve St. Louis area individuals.

In St. Francois County, the most recent occurrence happened on Monday with individuals breaking into Pettus Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Farmington. However, the would-be thieves did not manage to steal any vehicles due to security measures in place at the auto dealer.

Leadington Police Department is looking for four unidentified Black suspects related to Monday’s burglary. The suspects were seen on surveillance footage in masks and traveling in a charcoal-colored Dodge Durango.

Earlier this month, on June 3, a group of at least six suspects broke into Pettus Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram De Soto, stealing six vehicles.

Shawna Pettus of Pettus Automotive said all six vehicles have since been recovered, although some had sustained damage.

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“Initially, they got six cars,” she explained. “They wrecked two of them on the way out, rolled one, and then they got away with three. One was recovered in St. Louis and ran out of gas, and then we were still missing our [Dodge] Challenger.”

Pettus said before the Challenger was found in Normandy, she did some digging online and found that the car had been seen in areas throughout St. Louis. She was made aware that the stolen vehicle was captured on video doing burnouts at a “slide show” at the intersection of Natural Bridge Avenue and Grand Boulevard in North St. Louis.

The term “slide show,” in this case, refers to mostly illegal gatherings — generally on streets, intersections, or in parking lots — where drivers slide around on pavement by spinning their car tires to the point of losing traction (burnouts or donuts).

Since the thefts, Pettus has been working closely with detectives and the Auto Theft Task Force in St. Louis. She said the thieves left behind evidence in the cars, which is being investigated.

“There were some [AK-47] shells that were left in the vehicles,” she explained. “They did leave a lot of clues, and we do have some suspects. It’s been almost like a full-time job for me working with my detective, but that only goes so far.

“From what I’ve heard, and from some of the pictures that I’ve recovered off of our footage, a lot of these men look very young, and that’s concerning,” Pettus said. “They definitely look like minors in some cases, so I think that would be strategic in some regard.

“It’s part of a larger crime organization where they’re using four to eight individuals that come in, and their main priority is to find the keys and get away with as much as possible, as quickly as possible,” she noted.

The Pettus locations are just a few dealership break-ins that have occurred recently. Multiple other dealerships have been the targets or victims of similar thefts, appearing to bear the same characteristics.

The number of break-ins is difficult to assess. Still, Pettus said she was aware of at least 16 southeastern Missouri dealerships that had been broken into in the last month. She said it appears the thieves are targeting Dodge Challengers, Chargers, and Durangos from any dealership they can.

In the early hours of Thursday, criminals reportedly broke into Century Dodge Chrysler Jeep RAM in Wentzville. Many other dealerships in proximity to St. Louis have also recently seen burglaries and thefts.

Pettus said they have assessed their security protocols, addressed any problems, and continue to invest money in securing their locations to keep their employees, customers, and property safe. She noted specific measures already in place at their Leadington location prevented the intruders from being able to steal anything.

“Any improvements that we’ve needed to make, we’ve done, but we have really great security measures in place,” she explained. “Our key boxes are in a locked safe, and it takes pictures of people whenever they come around the safe, and that’s where I’ve gotten a lot of [the suspects’] images from. We have put a lot of money into security recently into the locked key boxes that also take pictures, and they really have done a good job of getting some good pictures of suspects.”

The auto dealer has now even hired off-duty law enforcement officers to patrol their locations.

“I also would like to give a warning to all other dealers to make sure that they’re taking the proper security measures because this crime ring knows no boundaries,” said Pettus. “They’re hitting rural areas from Illinois all the way down to Sullivan, Missouri. They really have no boundaries, and they’re targeting outside the city at this point.

“They are really well organized,” she noted. “They’re hitting a lot of dealerships, and they have no regard for security systems, the safety of others, or anyone’s hard work. It’s a violating feeling, but it also lights a fire under us, and we will not tolerate it.”

Area auto dealers on alert after recent break-ins, car thefts

Area auto dealers on alert after recent break-ins, car thefts

Area auto dealers on alert after recent break-ins, car thefts

Area auto dealers on alert after recent break-ins, car thefts

Area auto dealers on alert after recent break-ins, car thefts

Area auto dealers on alert after recent break-ins, car thefts

Area auto dealers on alert after recent break-ins, car thefts

Bobby Radford is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at [email protected]