The El Dorado Police Department is working with several other law enforcement agencies to investigate a series ATM and vehicle thefts that have been reported in several southern states and the central U.S.
Capt. Scott Harwell, of the EPD's Criminal Investigative Division, said local, state and federal authorities in Arkansas believe the thefts are linked to an out-of-state ring.
Thieves have struck in the Golden Triangle -- El Dorado, Camden and Magnolia -- several times within the past year.
Harwell said the cities' police departments are sharing information as a part of local investigations and a larger probe that is being conducted by the Arkansas State Police.
Similar reports have come out of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Oklahoma over the past few years, Harwell said.
In 2020, four Dallas men were arrested in a federal indictment in which the suspects were accused of driving to Arkansas and Oklahoma to break into ATMs in Walmart stores in cities that included Conway and Benton, according to a report from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Several ATM break-ins, attempted break-ins and related vehicle thefts have occurred within the past several months in El Dorado.
Two Texas men have been arrested and an arrest warrant issued for a third suspect from Mississippi in connection to the theft of two cargo vans and a commercial burglary that caused significant damage at a local convenience store earlier this year.
The incidents occurred in the wee hours of the morning on Valentine's Day.
Deaundre M. Elam, 30, and Jeremiah Reece, 23, both of Houston, and Javon Q. Hoye, 20, of Madison, Mississippi, are accused of stealing a van from South Arkansas Community College and ramming the van into the Murphy USA convenience store, 2720 N. West Ave., in an attempt to steal the ATM from the store.
The ages that are listed for the men were their ages at the time the incident occurred.
Police responded to a report of a van "repeatedly running into the building" and upon arrival, they saw that the north entrance of the store was "smashed in", an ATM was laying on the ground and several store racks and merchandise were strewn near the doorway.
No items were reported stolen.
The incident was captured on surveillance video from the store.
A short time later, officers recovered the van, which had been abandoned behind Walmart Supercenter, 2730 N. West Ave.
The van had substantial damage and the ignition had been punched, meaning that the suspects stole the van without using a key, police said.
A second white van was found abandoned in the middle of the road in the area of Hathaway Drive and North West Avenue.
Police said the engine was running and the ignition had also been punched. They learned the van had been stolen from M&A Wrecker Service.
Just before 5 a.m., officers reported seeing a man, later identified as Elam, walking south on North West Avenue near Oak Street.
Police said he was wearing clothing that matched the description of a suspect who was seen on surveillance video footage from Murphy USA and Walmart Supercenter. Elam was wet and his clothes were covered in mud and pine straw, police said.
Officers had noted evidence of activity that appeared to have recently occurred in a creek that is adjacent to Walmart.
Over the course of the investigation, Reece and Hoye were developed as suspects.
Thieves have also targeted ATMs at Southern Bancorp, 1615 W. Hillsboro, and River Valley Community Federal Credit Union, 2416 N. West Ave.
Harwell said both businesses were hit on the same night in the winter of 2021 in unsuccessful attempts to break into or steal the ATM.
Thieves struck at River Valley again earlier this year and made off with tens of thousands of dollars, Harwell said.
A vehicle that is commonly used in such crimes is the Ford F-250 pickup truck, he said, noting there have been multiple reports of thefts of the truck across the region.
While investigating the attempted break-in at Southern Bancorp, police found a Ford F-250 parked a couple of blocks of away from the bank and investigators believe the truck was used in the crime, Harwell said.
They tracked down the owner and learned the truck had been stolen from the parking lot of a local doctor's office.
"The owner of the vehicle had no idea it had been stolen," Harwell said. "It belonged to a construction company and the owner's son drives the truck."
He explained that ATM thieves typically attach J-Hooks to the machines and use the heavy-duty pickups to jerk the ATMs in an effort to open the cash door and remove the cassettes that hold the cash.
"The driver of the truck never gets out. They throw the cassettes in the back of truck and they drive to a location, ditch the truck and get into another car," Harwell said.
Through surveillance video footage in the attempted theft at Southern Bancorp , Harwell said investigators learned that the getaway vehicle had been rented from a business in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Recent vehicle thefts
In unrelated incidents, Harwell noted three vehicle thefts that have occurred in recent weeks.
A Chevrolet Sonic was stolen a few weeks ago and a pickup truck and a Kia Sportage were stolen last weekend.
Harwell said the keys were inside the Chevrolet Sonic when it was stolen from an apartment complex in the area of Calion Road and 19th Street.
The vehicle was recovered a few days later from a wooded area near Arlington Memorial Park, 702 N. Mosby, after officers received a tip.
"It was taken by a juvenile who stashed it in the high line in the woods and he would drive it around town with his friends and pick up his girlfriend from school in it," Harwell said.
The Kia Sportage was stolen between 8 and 10 a.m. Nov. 18 from the parking lot of the El Dorado News-Times, 111 N. Madison.
Officers noted broken glass in the spot where the vehicle had been parked.
The vehicle, which belonged to a News-Times' employee, was recovered shortly after it was reported stolen in the Bradley Woods apartment complex, 912 N. Yocum.
A window in the vehicle had reportedly been broken.
A suspect has been identified in the theft.