A $30,000 cash-only bond set for suspect charged in multiple burglaries, including at all Ozark County schools
A $30,000 cash-only bond has been set for Curtis Lee Barton, 34, of Ava, in connection with a swath of school and business break-ins beginning as early as February 2017 at Thornfield School and continuing through Nov. 5 at Dora and Bakersfield schools. Barton is charged with two counts of burglary, stealing $750 or more, stealing a firearm, explosive weapon or ammonium nitrate and first-degree property damage in connection with the alleged incidents.
Recent break-ins at Dora and Bakersfield schools
According to the probable cause statement in the case, an Ozark County sheriff’s deputy responded to a report of a burglary at Dora School at 7:07 a.m. Monday, Nov. 5. The screen in the principal’s office window had reportedly been removed with what appeared to be a cutting instrument. School officials played security footage that showed a man inside the school at 4:03 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 4.
On the video, the man, who was wearing jeans, a dark-colored hooded sweatshirt or jacket with a white stripe across the back and arms, a partial face mask and dark-colored athletic shoes, entered the school’s vault room and exited shortly afterward with a bag. In another camera view, a white passenger car can be seen near the main roadway with its headlights off.
Dora School officials estimate that $6,282.76 was taken from the vault.
On the same day, a Bakersfield School official also reported a burglary there. Video surveillance captured an individual inside the school wearing the same clothing as the Dora burglar. Bakersfield School officials believe approximately $2,000 in cash was stolen.
Past burglaries believed to have been committed by Barton
In addition to the Ozark County incidents, several past burglaries are believed to have been committed by Barton.
In a burglary at Thornfield School, reported Feb. 6, 2017, a suspect gained entrance through a window in the principal’s office area. Video surveillance equipment was removed from the school, along with approximately $600 in cash.
A burglary at Gainesville Elementary School was reported Sept. 28, 2017, in which entry was made through a window in the principal’s office. Video surveillance footage was still intact, and the video reportedly showed a person entering individual rooms and removing items. The suspect in the video wore a jacket, gloves, backpack, partial face mask, ball cap and eye glasses.
At approximately 3 a.m. that day, Ozark County Deputy Justin Urich observed a small white passenger car with Arkansas plates parked on Highway 160 just below the elementary school, the statement says. When Urich returned to the area around an hour later, the vehicle was gone.
The same day as the Gainesville Elementary burglary, MFA Propane on the Gainesville square was also burglarized. Entry was reportedly gained by breaking the large glass window in the front of the building. The cash drawer was opened, $30 in cash was taken and the file cabinets were opened and the files were disturbed. Damage to the front window was estimated to be $1,600. No fingerprints or other physical evidence could be found at the scene.
On Dec. 5, 2017, Ozark County Cpl. Curtis Dobbs responded to a report of a burglary at Gainesville Ag Supply on Highway 160, west of Gainesville. The front window of the business had been broken, creating a hole large enough for someone to reach in, unlock a window and open it from the outside. The screen to the window had also been cut and removed from the exterior. Several cabinet drawers had been opened, and coin money was removed. The business’ cash had been hidden prior to the break-in, and it was not disturbed. The surveillance camera was also removed by the burglar, the report says.
The same day the Gainesville Ag Supply burglary was reported, another burglary was reported at West Plains Propane, located at Highways 5 south and 160, just west of Gainesville. The front-door glass was shattered, and it appeared someone had gone through the drawers in the office. Items taken included two checks from customers made out to West Plains Propane.
On Dec. 9, 2017, Lutie School reported a burglary. Several locks, a door and windows were broken, and cash had been stolen from several areas of the school, the statement says. Camera footage at Lutie School shows a suspect inside the school from 3:15 to 5:15 a.m. entering rooms and removing items. The suspect was wearing a jeans, a hooded sweatshirt, a partial face mask and gloves, and he carried a backpack, the statement says. Approximately $2,012 in cash was taken, and a Glock handgun was removed from a locked cabinet by forcing the cabinet open. One of the school’s surveillance cameras was removed. Several doors and windows were damaged, and approximately $2,500 in property damage was done.
On Jan. 8, Taney County investigators, with the aid of Ozark County deputies, responded to a burglary at Mark Twain School on Highway 160 in Reuter. Video camera footage showed a person inside the school at 4 a.m. The person wore jeans, a hooded sweatshirt, a partial face mask, stocking hat and eye glasses, and he carried a backpack, the statement says.
On March 30, the West Plains Police Department investigated several similar burglaries at West Plains Door and Building Supplies, Elks Lodge and MFA Propane in West Plains, with included camera footage that showed a white male suspect matching the physical description of the burglar seen in the footage in the Ozark and Taney county break-ins. As in most of the other burglaries, the suspect wore jeans, a hood, gloves, a partial face mask, ball cap and eye glasses and carried a backpack.
Barry County burglaries lead to Barton
On Sept. 4, Ozark County officers were told that MFA Propane and Oil in Barry County had been burglarized. Several surveillance cameras at that break-in showed a 2016 white Kia passenger car with Arkansas license plates. The video footage was clear enough to read the license plates, and when officers ran the license number through their system, Barton was listed as the owner of the vehicle. A warrant was issued for him in Barry County, and he was charged with burglary and stealing.
During the course of the investigation, West Plains Police detectives determined that the suspect and vehicle used in the Barry County burglary matched the suspect and vehicle in the Howell County burglaries. They contacted Ozark County deputies, who also determined that the suspect and vehicle matched the burglaries at Gainesville Elementary and Lutie School. Deputy Urich said the vehicle also matched the one he passed on Highway 160 the morning the Gainesville school was burglarized.
Connecting the dots
“The…entries and exits made by the suspect, the suspect’s familiarity with the crime scene, the time of the occurrence, the items taken, the attempt to locate cash show a pattern or method of operation… [that] indicates the work of a single suspect in these incidents,” Dobb’s report says. “Where video footage was attained, the suspect wore similar clothing, gloves, backpack, partial face mask and eye glasses. In all the incidents the suspect appears to be familiar with when and where cash would be kept in schools. The suspect also appears to be aware of when and where other businesses would most likely have cash on hand.”
Barton has previously been convicted of burglarizing Gainesville Schools, receiving a sentence of seven years in prison. After his release, Barton was again arrested on Sept. 27, 2010, for burglarizing the Ozark County Courthouse and Gainesville City Hall. He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for each of the charges. In each of the incidents, the circumstances involving the crimes are similar to the 2017 and 2018 burglaries Barton is alleged to have committed.
“Entrance was gained in a similar manner, gloves were worn and locating cash appeared to be the primary objective,” the report says.
Barton was also charged with similar burglaries in Webster County on Dec. 27, 2010, and in Douglas County on July 14, 2010.
He was released from the Missouri Department of Corrections on supervised parole on Aug. 5, 2014, and released completely on Sept. 20, 2017. The dates of his release coincide with the burglaries committed in Ozark, Taney and Howell counties.
More recently, Barton was arrested in a Barry County case on Oct. 7 and posted a 10 percent surety on a $20,000 bond on Oct. 19, which coincides with the Nov. 4 burglaries at Dora and Bakersfield schools.