Debbie Campolo's husband came home one day in February to find the front door of their house in Radnor smashed open. The target was clear - her jewelry box sat empty on the bedroom dresser.
"They took everything I had, even the stuff my kids made me," said Campolo, a physical therapist who lives near Overbrook Golf Club.
Then she talked to three or four neighbors and workout pals who said the same thing had happened to them. And she found out that a few weeks before her break-in, a house three doors down had been hit the same way.
"They come in, pull a pillowcase off of a pillow, and then they dump the contents of a jewelry box right in it," Campolo said.
It's not exactly mayhem on the Main Line, but in many of those communities in Montgomery, Chester, and Delaware Counties, burglaries are on the rise in some neighborhoods - and just feel that way in others.
There have been dips, but the overall number of burglaries has increased in Lower Merion, Radnor, and Tredyffrin Townships in the last five years. That coincides with the economic downturn.
For Lower Merion, with 57,825 residents, and Tredyffrin, whose population is 29,332, the uptick is a current event.
"There's certainly an increase going on right now," said Lower Merion Township Police Superintendent Michael J. McGrath, who added that the rise began around July in Merion, Bala Cynwyd, and Gladwyne, and around Penn Wynne. This year, there were 181 burglaries in the township through Sept. 30.
There have been 47 burglaries in Tredyffrin Township in 2013, mostly of homes. That ties last year's total, police records show.
In Radnor, a township of 31,531, burglaries jumped from 26 in 2008 to 51 last year, peaking at 62 in 2011. This year is heading toward a decline, with 30 as of the end of September.
Though the circumstances may be different, some characteristics are the same.
Arrests suggest most of the burglars are addicts looking for fast money for drugs, especially heroin, police said. The typical scenario, McGrath said, has the burglar studying a neighborhood during the day to get a feel for residents' comings and goings and the getaway route. A burglar who succeeds once will return to that neighborhood, McGrath said.
The crooks will knock on a door and if no one answers, they will go around to the back and break a door or window.
If a resident does answer, the burglar may pretend to be a solicitor and ask whether the house needs a paint job, or throw out a name and ask where that person lives. "They don't want to confront anybody," McGrath said. His department has had reports of burglars running away when they realized someone was home. A few years ago, he said, a burglar ran through a glass door after an unexpected encounter.
The typical heist is a fast, in-and-out job.
"For the most part, it's not measured in hours, it's measured in minutes," said Police Superintendent Anthony Giaimo III.
And there is no single portrait of a purloiner.
Some are locals, some come from Philadelphia or beyond, police said. Others are part of small criminal networks that have been hitting homes throughout the Northeast. "For the most part, they're taking things they can easily get away with. Precious metals are very big right now. Your gold, your silver, your jewelry . . . money, credit cards, smaller electronics like iPhones, iPads," Giaimo said.
Most of the burglars are not caught, according to police data, which show only a small percentage of burglaries are solved.
In January, an investigation by a multi-jurisdictional task force led to a Philadelphia man's being charged with 26 counts of residential burglary in Montgomery and Delaware Counties. Abington Township police said Derrick Carter was picked up after committing burglaries in Delaware County and New Castle, Del. Carter is awaiting trial.
In March, Marple Township police arrested two Delaware men for burglarizing multiple homes, including Campolo's. They were caught when a resident came home about 4 p.m., heard banging from the back of the house, and noticed the garage door was damaged.
"It is unsettling to hear of burglaries nearby," said Judith Levine of Bala Cynwyd, whose neighborhood has been struck a few times. "I know some people find it surprising, but there's no reason that people in Lower Merion should feel they are isolated from what's going on in the world."
Police are responding with more patrols in targeted neighborhoods, mapping crime, and looking for common forensic traits, such as the method of entry or what was taken, to help identify suspects locally or regionally.
A group of serial burglars was nabbed last year after investigators identified them through a small oil stain their getaway car routinely left at crime scenes, police said.
"It's the small nuances that you pick up on," Giaimo said. "It might be the particular cigarette butt found at the scene."
Police say homeowners should keep their doors and windows locked. Alarm systems and exterior lighting help. So does removing dense shrubs that could become hiding places below windows.
"There is no magic cure," Giaimo said. "I say use as many tools as you have available to you."