Pat Boucher suddenly began shaking. Tears filled her eyes.
Sitting before a 4-inch thick binder of hundreds of photos of jewels, guns, cameras and other assorted goods, she had beaten the odds and spotted something of her own.
In a time when eight out of 10 burglaries go unsolved in Anchorage and stolen items disappear forever, Boucher had spotted -- among the piles of goods police say are the booty of a man-woman team of burglars -- a treasure taken from her home three months before.
"I would have given $1 million to get that back!" the 75-year-old said of a locket that, when opened, had two 30-year-old photos, one of them a photo of her grandchild. The other was a photo of her son, who recently died.
When police recovered the necklace, it was among 2,000 items strewn in a mess around a two-bedroom apartment in East Anchorage. It was one of the largest recoveries of stolen goods in recent years by the Anchorage Police Department.
Boucher had worn the locket around her neck and close to her heart most of the time until a burglar broke into her home and lifted it from her dresser one Wednesday afternoon while she was at church. The burglar also made off with her other jewelry, 90 pounds of coins, and three guns.
"I felt so violated, " she said. "I didn't think anybody would do something like that."
Pat and her 79-year-old husband, Clement Boucher, didn't know it at the time, but they were among at least 18 victims of the burglary spree that lasted from December until March in East Anchorage.
The rash of break-ins brought Alejandro Aulman, 20, and Janell Robinson, 19, who are boyfriend and girlfriend, more than $100,000 in stolen property, police say.
Detectives discovered the treasure trove of stolen goods at the couple's apartment on Checkmate Drive while investigating the pawning of a stolen camcorder at Easy Pawn in Muldoon. The camcorder box contained a receipt with the name of someone who had recently been burglarized, police said.
Investigators found a gold necklace hung on the neck of a stuffed animal in a pile of toys. A pendant was draped over a bathroom towel rack. In a dresser drawer with a half deck of cards, ketchup packets and loose Cheerios was a man's gold ring.
"There was jewelry everywhere, " said Anchorage police detective Tammy Dunn. "In every drawer, on every surface."
Police believe just about all of it was stolen.
Aulman and Robinson have been charged with burglary and theft, and assistant district attorney Alan Goodwin says the charges could stack up more as police look further into break-ins they believe are linked to the couple.
Both Aulman and Robinson remain in jail.
CLOSE TO HOME
Burglary detective Amy Lyons said the couple may have committed most of their burglaries in their own neighborhood. Police have so far discovered 18 victims in a radius of about a mile from the Checkmate apartment. They suspect more victims are still out there because many of the seized goods have yet to be claimed.
Police say the break-ins occurred during the day, when most homes are empty. The burglars' modus operandi was a common one: They would check to see if someone was home -- likely by knocking or ringing the doorbell -- then kick in front or back doors.
Police say that Robinson sometimes stood as lookout and also helped sell the stolen goods.
That so much of the loot was found at the apartment did not surprise police. Pawnshops are required by municipal code to report high-frequency pawners. The thieves were likely hesitant to flood the shops and draw attention, and thus had accumulated quite a load, said Sgt. Ron Tidler, head of APD's burglary unit.
The items that did make it to local pawn shops -- some of which were sold by the shops before police caught on to the scheme, others of which police were able to seize -- tended to be the higher quality ones, including expensive jewelry sold for a fraction of its true value, police said.
Now, two months later after that initial search of the apartment, detectives have stacks of files on the case, and are working through the stolen goods and wondering how to find all the victims. Some of the loot will likely not be returned to original owners, like generic gold chains, coins and some electronic equipment. But others, like a Tasmanian Devil gold pocket watch, or the pocket watch with a picture of Jesus, have a good chance of being returned if the victims step forward, police said. After he was arrested, Aulman toured the East Anchorage neighborhood with investigators and pointed out homes he said he broken into, police say.
CHRISTMAS PRESENT BURGLAR
One of those belonged to Paula Starbard. Hit on Dec. 23, Starbard said the burglar knocked over the Christmas tree and unwrapped all the gifts. He took what he wanted, including her daughter's Bratz doll that was her special Christmas present. The thief locked the family husky-Lab mix, Lilo, into a bedroom during the plunder. The dog had diarrhea for days after, Starbard said. "She must have been so distraught, " she said.
The burglary left Starbard afraid to be home alone. She's a little less anxious, knowing police believe they have the thief responsible.
The Bouchers feel the same. They only recently moved to Anchorage from Glennallen, where they never locked their doors. "We got robbed while we were at church, " Pat Boucher said. "Do you know how violating that is?"
The couple estimates they lost $15,000 worth of goods in the single break-in. Most of their stuff is long gone and won't be recovered.
"I don't want any plea bargain, " Clement Boucher said. "I'm pushing that they go to jail for a while and that they pay. They need to be punished."
Pat Boucher is more forgiving. "I'm in seventh heaven just knowing my precious locket is safe."
The locket likely didn't get pawned because it wasn't worth much, police said.
She said about a month ago, she had a dream. "We were in court and I put my arm around them (the thieves) and said, 'All you have to do is say you're sorry and really mean it, and I'll forgive you.'"
Does she really mean it? "I want to think so, " she said.
She still wants them to go to jail, though.
By MEGAN HOLLAND
Anchorage Daily News