Tipton grocery store burglarized 18 times in 18 years

Tipton_The Leggs Grocery store in Tipton, Oklahoma, has been burglarized 18 times in 18 years, and police still do not have many leads.  Residents in town say they believe it's only one group of burglars hitting the store each time, because each time they break in, they pass over thousands of dollars worth of tools and appliances and head straight for the cigarettes - Marlboros.  In the latest hit - a week and a half ago - the burglars stole $2,000 worth of cigarettes.

Leggs Grocery is the only grocery store in town, so there aren't that many places that sell cigarettes to burglarize.  The burglars haven't struck often enough for police to find a pattern and predict when they'll strike next.

Many people in small towns, such as Tipton in Tillman County, are trusting in nature and don't lock their doors.  After being burgled 18 times in 18 years, owners Don and Nancy Leggs - along with much of the community - see this as a huge violation of their trust.  "I've never heard of too much of a problem from the local people of people breaking into their homes," said local farmer Bill Johns.  "It's just been - seems like Don Leggs has the only one they've picked on all these years."

The grocery store has a broken window from a previous burglary, and another from the latest.  The owners say they just can't afford to continue to replace the windows - so they've installed plywood to do the job.  Tipton police work very hard and are having difficulty catching the burglars.  "You have to realize we work with the minimum law enforcement," says Tipton Mayor Marvin Huff.  "We have one full-time, and we've got two part-time, and a couple reserves.  "But it can't be covered 24-hours," he says.  Huff says that cell phones could make it quite easy for a potential burglar to tell another where the police are, and what they are doing - making it much easier to break in to a store or residence.

Police say that while there are suspects, witnesses aren't cooperating, making it difficult to get testimony.  "In small town they don't have the resources that they would have in Oklahoma City to go through all the steps necessary to build a case," says Johns.  He worries that the Leggs lose so much money with each burglary - from stolen merchandise and repairs -  that they may have to close their grocery store.  "It would mean an extreme hardship, because there is a high proportion of our population that's elderly," says Johns.  "It would be very difficult for them to go to Altus or Frederick or Lawton for their groceries.  It would be a definite hardship on the community if we lost our grocery store."

The Leggs' were out of town at the time of the interview and unavailable for comment.  However, on Monday, Nancy Leggs said that each time her store is burgled it becomes more and more difficult for them to file an insurance claim - making matters worse.