Carol Novak noticed two things when she awoke one morning in March at the Pelican Bay apartment rental.
First, more than $25,000 worth of jewelry was missing, including the diamond necklace her late husband had given her.
And second, a lollipop stick was lying on a night stand.
“When I saw it, I knew I didn’t eat lollipops,” she said. “So I saved it and gave it to the sheriff’s department.”
Thomas Christopher Crews, 53, of North Naples, told deputies he didn’t eat lollipops either, but DNA evidence was against him.
Detectives had already run a sample of the DNA found on the discarded sucker through a state database, matching it to a samples Crews gave after a Sarasota County arrest and a voluntary sample given a few months earlier. The results led to Crews’ arrest Wednesday on charges of unarmed burglary and grand theft. Investigators said the frequency of his DNA’s occurrence is one in 19 quintillion.
“This is the guy,” Collier County sheriff’s detective Christopher Goldhorn said.
When questioned about his penchant for sweet treats, reports show Crews denied eating lollipops, shouting “no” and showing deputies his teeth to prove it. Crews suggested instead that a homeless man he let stay with him maybe committed the crime, leaving behind a lollipop stick the two had shared.
“He was basically inconsistent,” Goldhorn said. “Later on in the interview when I introduced some evidence and statements he indicated it was possible that he had had a lollipop.”
Crews has a history of arrests in the state and in Lee and Collier counties, including prior arrests in Lee County for armed burglary.
“He’s very experienced, very savvy,” Goldhorn said. “He knows what he’s doing, knows how to talk to law enforcement. He’s been dealing with law enforcement his whole life.”
Goldhorn said it’s likely Crews made a simple mistake when he left the lollipop stick behind. In past Collier and Lee cases, clumsy criminals have left everything from a wallet to their keys to a cellphone at the scene. Goldhorn said this is the first such case he’s encountered.
Crews is being investigated for other burglaries, Goldhorn said, but he wouldn’t elaborate. Reports show other Pelican Bay burglaries took place April 1 in which witnesses saw a man who looked like Crews prowling behind homes.
While the jewelry has not yet been recovered, Novak said she was grateful to know Crews had been caught. Novak credits detectives with keeping her informed of the progress in the case while she worked in Michigan during the months it took to track and arrest Crews.
“I feel very safe going down there next year,” she said. “I’ll be staying in a different place, though.”