Arrested man stuns police with vehicle theft claims

Wash. man says he stole 200 to 300 cars in a year

February 25, 2007|By New York Times News Service

SEATTLE -- Three cars a week, sometimes four. Usually nice ones. Even a patrol car now and then. He said he stole them for the thrill and because he was high.

Part methodical technician, part methamphetamine addict, part scavenger, Taylor J. Norton, 22, had a way with getting away with it, the authorities say.

Until now.

"He says he stole 200 to 300 cars," said Rebecca Hover, a spokeswoman for the sheriff's office in Snohomish County, north of Seattle. "Whether he's correct, we don't know yet. This is what he's telling us. His attention to detail has been quite clear and concise so far."

Norton was arrested Jan. 23, and authorities say he has since led detectives to about 50 places in Snohomish County alone where he claims to have stolen cars in the past year and where theft reports tend to match his claims.

"They'd drive by another location, and he'd say, `Oh, yeah, I stole one from this house, too,' " Hover said. "He remembers license plates. His attention to detail was uncanny."

The authorities say Norton stole a boat and steered it up Hood Canal to sell its parts. They say he rolled away with an Itasca motor home, as well as a patrol car. (He said he gave away the ballistics vest and other gear he found inside.) Yet his preference was for finer vehicles, including BMWs, at least one of which was found near the trailer in the woods in Arlington where authorities say they finally found Norton hiding under bedcovers.

There, the authorities say, in addition to other vehicles and parts, they found "a burn pile on the property with people's personal documents from their stolen cars among the ashes."

The Snohomish sheriff's office has linked Norton to 34 cases, with the bulk of the charges for motor vehicle theft. Other jurisdictions are also expected to press charges.

He liked to strike after 9 p.m., when he presumed people would be inside, perhaps watching television. Sometimes, Norton told detectives, he simply drove off in cars that had keys in them. Sometimes he found keys to another car in a car he had just stolen, so he stole the second one, too. Sometimes he worked in the morning, taking cars that were being warmed up in driveways or left in open garages.

"You would be surprised how many people leave their purses or extra keys in those cars," Norton told detectives, according to an arrest affidavit.

He claimed to be able to disable certain theft-prevention devices, such as OnStar and LoJack, the latter by parking under aluminum sheds.

Norton told the authorities he had been addicted to methamphetamine since he was 13. He said he wanted to admit to his crimes "in order to get a clean slate, and to increase his chance of getting substance-addiction treatment," according to the arrest affidavit.

Parts of Snohomish County and areas nearby have been on the defensive since 2003, when Rolling Stone published an article that labeled a nearby town as Methville. Hover made a point of asking about the nature of a reporter's interest in Norton's case, which was announced Thursday in a news release by the sheriff's department.

"It's not `Granite Falls, meth capital of the world' again, is it?" she asked. "The issue is not, `Gee, how could this guy get away with this?' but that these deputies tracked down all of these cases."

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