[Story mentions at least two other cases where armed homeowners chased
him from their homes.]
Cat burglar knew 'game was up'
Brazen thief told sister he would rather die than return to prison By
July 13, 2003
The day before he was shot and killed inside a Hickory Hill home, cat
burglar David Ronald Washington told his sister he could never return to
In and out of lockup his entire adult life, 44-year-old 'Little Ronnie'
knew that with his record, he would spend the rest of his life in prison
if convicted again. Even so, within a month of his parole in February,
he went on a spree of house burglaries unprecedented in Memphis.
Burglary detectives have attributed 87 break-ins to Washington so
far. They think he may have been responsible for as many as 300 before
he was killed June 13 during a fight with the homeowner.
For 3 months, Washington worked at his trade almost nightly. He slipped
in through windows wearing gloves, a dark hood and clothing to hide his
5-foot-5, 140-pound frame.
He took only cash and jewelry. He never bragged about his exploits. He
didn't work with a partner or carry a gun.
Police have recovered a small portion of the loot and don't know what he
did with the rest.
When confronted inside homes, Washington fled, escaping through the same
window he entered. And while he never attacked any of his victims, he
scared the daylights out of several.
"He came creeping down the hall, and I saw a head stick around the
bedroom door," said 80-year-old Jerome Morrison of East Memphis. "I
yelled that I was calling 911. . . . He scared the hell out of me,"
Others told police of waking up in the middle of the night and seeing
the cat burglar hovering over them.
In April, he crawled through a window, walked in on a couple eating
supper and dove out the same window.
On June 3, a sleeping woman heard a bumping noise and woke up to see an
intruder standing over her.
The woman's boyfriend chased the man out of the bedroom, down the stairs
and into the kitchen, where the burglar crashed through a window.
One victim described his encounter with the cat burglar as "very eerie,
very creepy," according to police reports.
Despite Washington's care to mask his identity, by April, burglary
detectives were hot on his trail. The cat burglar wasn't leaving
fingerprints, but his method of operations had rung a bell with Burglary
Det. Daniel Barham.
Back in 1996, while working as a patrolman in the East Precinct, Barham
had helped investigate a series of burglaries with very similar
earmarks, and he remembered the burglar was named Washington.
Detectives discovered that Washington, who had been convicted in 1997
for a series of burglaries in East Memphis, had been released from state
prison in February.
Barham said Washington looked for a particular type of window, with
multiple panes on the top and bottom.
He would remove a pane from the bottom section using a putty knife or
something similar, then reach up and turn the lock, Barham said.
In mid-April, after one burglary victim identified Washington in a photo
spread, police charged Washington in the first of three warrants for
By early June, Washington's picture was everywhere: on television, on
fliers, in the newspapers. Detectives were combing South Memphis, where
Washington had lived briefly with his mother after getting out of
prison, and watching his haunts.
As the police closed in, Washington kept slipping into homes, sometimes
four or five a night. Nothing seemed to faze him.
One May night, he was chased out of two houses by homeowners armed with
guns, Barham said. Washington committed three more break-ins later that
"He was unique, the best I've ever seen," Barham said. "To him, it was a
job, except it was 9 to 5 a.m. for him."
Burglary detectives regret they were never able to interview Washington,
to see how he thought and operated.
"He was a cat, and he utilized all his lives," Barham said.
When Washington was shot and killed in the Hickory Hill home of Memphis
Fire Department investigator Christopher Howard, police said Washington
had items he had taken in burglaries earlier that night.
The shooting was ruled a justifiable homicide. Last week, Howard
declined a request for an interview.
Washington's sister said her brother knew he was playing for keeps.
"The game was up," Brenda Word said.
The day before he died, Word said, she had spoken to her brother. "I'd
rather die than go to prison," she said he had told her.
Family members debated whether to turn him in, and now regret they did
nothing, she said.
"I'd rather see him alive in jail than dead," Word said.
Washington's fatalism is not unusual for certain types of criminals,
said Memphis clinical psychologist Dr. John Hutson, who has testified in
dozens of criminal trials and interviewed hundreds of suspects.
Cat burglars are a rare breed, proud of their smarts and ability to
evade capture, Hutson said. They get a kick out of invading the homes of
others, because "there is a thrill factor."
Washington, for instance, preferred going into homes where there were
people. He was not scared of alarms or dogs. He would move slowly in the
houses unless cornered.
But such anti-social males, by the time they get into their 40s and
start to slow down, often think about suicide.
"They think too much of themselves to kill themselves, so they often
find a proxy," Hutson said.
"They want to go out in a blaze of glory."