What To Learn From An Infamous Burglar’s Confessions

This profile of one of Los Angeles’ most industrious and prolific cat burglars gives us an opportunity to take a rare look into the mind of a professional burglar, as he reveals some of the secrets of the craft. In this case, the burglar is Ignacio Pena Del Rio, a Spaniard who came to the United States and began one of the most infamous burglary careers in U.S. history.

Pana Del Rio came to the United States after growing up in an affluent family in Spain. While in Spain, he developed a strong distaste, or even disgust, for luxurious lifestyles. After his eventual 2006 arrest in California, he would admit that his anti-luxury mindset is what led him to start stealing. He wanted to steal from the rich and eventually give to the poor. However, according to Details Magazine, he never gave back to the poor.

Pana Del Rio is a very smart man, a friend told his hometown newspaper in Spain that, “In (Del Rio’s) studies, he barely had to exert himself.” He parlayed community college credits from Spain into a business degree from the University of San Diego and established himself on the west coast around 1998. He learned the art of burglary from “west-side crooks” in L.A.’s Romani community and then broke apart from the group and began to steal on his own.


Del Rio’s Most Basic Strategy

The typical victims of Pana Del Rio’s residential property crimes were people who “advertised their absence” by keeping porch lights on all day and letting newspapers pile up. Those tell-tale signs of vacancy have been detailed on this blog before, but Pana Del Rio gave veteran LAPD Detective Bill Longacre a more in-depth look into how he used these clues to target homes. Pana Del Rio revealed in police briefings that older people in well-kept homes are an easy mark. Pana Del Rio told Longacre that the elderly weren’t necessarily a target because they are vulnerable, but because he reasoned that they accumulated more expensive things than a younger person would have.


Targeting “Angry” and “Distrustful” Homeowners

Pana Del Rio sought out homeowners who were angry and distrustful of established institutions like banks. He would reason that if a homeowner was vocal in the community or online about a distrust with the banks, then that person probably stored cash in their home.

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Pana Del Rio would then, often correctly, label these people as “mattress money sets.” He would break into their homes and get away with large amounts of cash, precious metals or other lucrative goods. As we’ve detailed in the past, it’s dangerous to display personal information on social media. Today it is extremely common for people to be active on social media, but one must be very careful about the level of personal information they choose to display. Pana Del Rio was able to speculate who would store cash in their home because of a tangible distrust for banks.


Posing as a Jogger, Utility Worker or Victim

Pana Del Rio prided himself on staying in shape as a way of gaining respect and legitimacy. He lived in a delivery style truck that he owned, worked out for several hours every day and took his showers at a 24-Hour Health Club. He would dress up in expensive workout gear and jog around a neighborhood while simultaneously scoping out the area. He would even go as far as to ask residents about their homes and compliment certain features of a house. He rehearsed exit strategies as he walked through neighborhoods and would never panic or run when confronted. When things did go wrong, he would claim to be a utility company employee whose job was to look out for trees growing over power lines or say that he had been in a car accident days earlier and was looking for witnesses. Homeowners should never give information about specific homes in their neighborhood to strangers strolling through, no matter how genuine they may seem. Often times it is better to call the police and be wrong, than to not call, and miss the chance to prevent a crime.


Using Simple Tools

While Pana Del Rio did have access to complex tools like hydraulic pry bars, repelling ropes and blowtorches, he used simple tools like gloves and a screwdriver in about 90 percent of his crimes. He would typically knock on a front door, and if no one answered, he’d check the windows and walk around to the back of the house. He’d then put gloves and a headlamp on, pop a lock or window with a flathead screwdriver, enter, loot and leave. However, even though he relied on physical tools frequently, Pana Del Rio told Details Magazine that the best tool he ever had was the “human brain.” In his interview with Details Magazine, Pana Del Rio said, “Being able to read people’s minds and being able to influence them, I was able to get into many places without tools, gather information, finish the job and get away without using violence.”


Homeowners should take note of this and pay extra attention when speaking to a “door-knocker” or salesman in case they are trying to dupe you into giving away valuable home security information.

Thankfully for homeowners, Pana Del Rio agreed to share all of this information with the public in exchange for having his ten year sentence reduced by about two thirds. He helped return the goods he stole and gifted security-minded homeowners all over the world with valuable information. The fact is that some burglars are polished professionals and home security systems are simply a necessity to properly securing a home.


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