Police: Suspect broke into businesses to fuel drug habit

By Lindsey Connell - bio | email

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) -  Columbus Police say a man has admitted to a string of smash and grab burglaries at area businesses.

Joel Edwards, 49, pleaded not guilty and waived his preliminary hearing in Recorder's Court Thursday morning.

Detective Tom Shelton with the Columbus Police Department's Burglary/Theft Division says investigators know Edwards is responsible for 32 burglaries that started in late September and continued into January. Shelton says Edwards has confessed to 20 of the crimes and even showed detectives which stores he targeted as they drove him around town on January 11th and 12th.

Edwards was captured January 9th. Shelton says his car had been captured in surveillance video and a description went out. Patrol officers spotted the car, pulled it over and arrested him. After searching his car and later his home off of Waverly Avenue, Shelton says officers found scratch off lottery tickets taken from convenience stores and clothing that was worn during the burglaries.

According to investigators, Edwards hit convenience stores, plumbing businesses and nail and tanning salons along Manchester Expressway, Veterans Parkway, Moon Road, Fortson Road, Bradley Park Drive, Airport Thruway and 2nd Avenue. Most of the time, they say he acted alone but would have someone drop him off or pick him up in the area of the burglaries. According to Detective Shelton, he got away with $500-$1500 in each of the 32 burglaries.

Police say Edwards works at a local plant nursery but would not say which one. They tell WTVM he was committing the burglaries on the side to fuel his drug habit. At the time of his arrest, they say he was caught with crack cocaine.

According to the Georgia Department of Corrections web site, Edwards only served two years of a 15 year prison sentence after being convicted of several burglaries and cocaine possession . He was released in September of 2009. His prior convictions include a number of credit card thefts.

Edwards is being held without bond in the Muscogee County Jail.

On Thursday, officials released surveillance footage of Edwards allegedly caught in the act. A security system at 13th Street BBQ on Veterans Parkway caught Edwards looking right at the camera. Workers say he smashed the restaurant's front door and tried to get into the cash register.

Police say other clips show him empty the register at Marco's Pizza and take each of the cash drawers at a Cricket wireless store.

The video also captures Edwards picking up the brick he used to break-in in an effort to cover his tracks. He used a tire iron in some cases like a smash and grab at Cici's Pizza so that he could pry open the registers.

Police say 16 of Edwards' burglary cases are going straight to the Muscogee County Grand Jury. Five or six more will be heard in Recorder's Court in the next week. In the cases being heard in Recorder's Court, detectives say they have video evidence and Edwards' admission to the crimes. For those headed to the Grand Jury, they say they have his confessions and some clothing linking him to the crimes.

Investigators say he's also responsible for burglaries in Phenix City.

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