Pillowcase burglars' links to murders probed

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By Buster Thompson
Investigators from several agencies are still sifting through a cache of goods believed stolen by an Ocala couple suspected of burglarizing over 60 homes around central Florida.
Darren Decker, 41, and his 44-year-old wife Jessica Baker were arrested April 18 during a traffic stop in Marion County on an arrest warrant stemming from a burglary that happened that day in Sumter County.
They are being held without bond at the Sumter County Detention Center on charges of unarmed burglary and grand theft.
Prior to the pair’s arrest, detectives had tagged Decker and Baker as suspects in a string of roughly 60 other burglaries in Marion, Alachua, Sumter, Levy and Citrus counties.
They’ve also been labeled as persons of interest in two homicides — one in Citrus County and another in Marion County.
“There is a lot of mayhem these two individuals did,” Capt. Brian Dotten of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office’s (MCSO) Crime Suppression Unit said at a Monday press conference.
Also at the conference were representatives from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Citrus County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO), Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO), Levy County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO), Sumter County Sheriff’s Office and Williston Police Department.
Each of these agencies had a hand in the monthslong investigation into the burglaries.
Decker and Baker have yet to be charged in the burglaries and homicides, but police say charges will be forthcoming once investigators process all relevant evidence. A statewide prosecutor will then take over the case.
Decker and Baker are suspected of 28 burglaries in Marion County, 13 burglaries in Citrus and 11 burglaries in Levy.
Dotten said Decker and Baker would travel from county to county, house to house — sometimes in one day — looking for homes that were isolated and poorly secured.
“They were very smart,” Dotten said about the couple trying to cover their tracks.
After choosing a target, they would force there way into the front or back door and steal jewelry, small electronics, prescription drugs and firearms. Dotten said 24 firearms — rifles and handguns — were stolen and more may still be linked to the couple.
They would also leave a trail of missing pillowcases used to transport the stolen goods, Dotten said, dubbing the pair the “Pillowcase Burglars.”
Authorities got a lead when a burglary victim saw their former possession on Craiglist and called police.
Since then, MCSO and CCSO surveillance teams tracked Decker and Baker until their traffic stop, which Dotten described as “controlled.”
After the pair was arrested and interviewed, authorities were able to acquire search warrants for their home at 6131 NE 25th Ave. in Ocala, their car and storage unit, where most of the stolen items and pillowcases were found and recovered.
Dotten could not guess as to the total value of the stolen goods, which investigators are processing to match with specific burglaries in affected counties.
“I wouldn’t even want to guess. It’s sufficient.” Dotten said. “We’re notifying the victims now.”
Dotten said one case being worked has about $30,000 worth of stolen items.
Authorities are also processing evidence in two homicides in which Decker and Baker are named as prime suspects. No other violent crimes have been connected to Decker and Baker, Dotten said.
In the early morning hours of Jan. 25, unknown persons forced their way into the home of 57-year-old Tamara Bedenbaugh at 4125 NW Highway 225A in Ocala, according to an MCSO news release.
During the course of the burglary, Bedenbaugh was killed. Her death was ruled a homicide. Bedenbaugh’s wallet, an undetermined amount of cash and jewelry were also stolen.
MCSO Sheriff Chris Blair would not comment at length on his agency’s homicide investigation, but said, “I feel confident these individuals are connected.”
Capt. Brad Smith of the CCSO’s Major Crimes Unit also said Monday that Decker and Baker are connected to the slaying of 71-year-old Don Terryl “Terry” Plumeri inside his home near Dunnellon.
Plumeri, an accomplished composer and conductor, was found dead April 1 in his home at 6662 W. Candier Court from multiple stab wounds and trauma to the upper body.
“Being at the scene and seeing with my own two eyes, it was a violent scene,” Smith said. “It was apparent; they really had no regard for human life.”
“It’s a relief, it’s a burden that’s been lifted from our community,” Smith added.
When asked about motive, Dotten said the pair fell on hard times. Decker had sold his business and was trying to move back to New York, where he also has a criminal history. Baker has no prior criminal history, Dotten said.
Officials went on to compliment those who continue to work together to bring the case to a conclusion.
“This was a team effort,” ACSO Capt. Calvin DeCoursey said. “And without this team effort, none of this would be possible.”
“We always work together behind the scenes, this was one of those opportunities to come together,” LCSO Sheriff Bobby McCallum added. “There’s still plenty of work to be done.”
Even with the pair in custody, Dotten reminded homeowners to remain vigilant and protect themselves with good home security.
“Just don’t be an easy target,” he said.