Crime & Courts

Suspect arrested in Newton serial burglaries, police say

Robert Johnson Jr. is suspected of being the Newton serial burglar.
Robert Johnson Jr. is suspected of being the Newton serial burglar. Courtesy photo

A suspected serial burglar who eluded Newton police for months has been arrested, the department announced Wednesday.

Robert Johnson Jr., 59, was arrested overnight Tuesday at a burglary in Derby, according to Newton police Lt. Scott Powell.

The Derby Police Department worked with police in Newton, Wichita and Park City and was able to connect Johnson to similar cases in all four places, Powell said.

In Newton alone, Johnson is suspected of committing up to 20 burglaries between September and late January, police said. Newton police are analyzing an additional 46 calls made in that time frame about suspicious characters and “prowlers,” said Newton police Lt. Bryan Hall.

Johnson was released on parole from the Kansas Department of Corrections in August, where he had spent more than 20 years for various convictions dating to 1983, including aggravated kidnapping, rape and three counts of aggravated robbery.

Johnson moved to Newton in August, and the reported burglaries began in September, Powell said.

The burglary spree was a test of the Newton Police Department’s recent acquisition of predictive policing software, which uses algorithms to predict where and when a crime is going to occur.

As the burglaries continued in late 2015, the accuracy of the software increased, and “it got to the point where the last three offenses actually were pretty spot on with both where they would take place, in a couple-block area, and when,” Hall said.

“The very last offense, an officer missed him by 25 seconds,” he said. “They passed one another.”

Newton police think their frequent warnings to the community to lock doors – which included waking up sleeping residents in the middle of the night to tell them their garage doors were open – helped deter the burglar.

“The pressure we were able to put on by putting assets in place made it to where it just wasn’t conducive for him to commit crimes here anymore,” Hall said.

The burglar would enter homes through unlocked doors and typically steal cash out of nearby purses and wallets before leaving, police have said.

Hall, who will graduate with a master’s degree in criminology from Wichita State University this weekend, hopes to use the data to create a research case study, he said.

Though a suspect has been arrested, Powell said it is important for Newton residents to keep locking their doors.

“It’s a sense of relief that this guy is caught and off the streets, but for every one of these guys, there’s going to be five or six more (coming) along,” he said. “People need to continue to be careful.”

Matt Riedl: 316-268-6660, @RiedlMatt