Police charge man in connection with string of church break-ins

by: Mark Becker Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

A church should be a safe place, and the same goes for a church parking lot.

But for months, someone had been smashing car windows in three church parking lots along Park Road in Charlotte and stealing handbags, wallets, anything they could get their hands on quickly.

Now police believe they have their man.

Detectives have charged Howard Watson, 42, with break-ins at Avondale Presbyterian Church, Park Road Baptist Church and St. Luke's Lutheran Church between January and September -- most of them while the victims were inside the churches at work.

"We were outside on the playground when they said the alarm was going off," said Kristina Johnson, who was working in the day care at St. Luke's in June when someone told her that her car had been broken into.

"We looked in, they threw a rock through the driver's side window and my roommate's purse was stolen out of the car," Johnson said.

She wasn't the only victim at that church.

"It happened to a couple of the choir members within just a couple of weeks," said church administrator Pete Schmidt.

By then, Detective David Haulsee was already on it.

"Since January, we've had numerous car break-ins along Park Road areas where rocks were thrown through the windows," Haulsee said.

He traced some of the stolen debit cards to ATMs where he was able to get surveillance pictures of a suspect, but the big break came when someone at Park Road Baptist Church recognized the suspect's car and called police.

"They actually saw the suspect come back to the parking lot. They were able to get a tag number and pass it on to us," Haulsee said.

It all pointed to Howard Watson, who had a record of break-ins and drug charges going back to 1989.

Police searched Watson's apartment on Friday and found evidence tying Watson to the break-ins. They arrested him.