News SBI: On the Case of Rural Crime

SBI: On the Case of Rural Crime

SBI: On the Case of Rural Crime
March 1, 2024 |

By Marlee Jackson

When Special Agent Chase Chapman was approached for this piece, he didn’t have a cracked case at the ready — a locked-up ring-leader responsible for scads of rural crime.

Just days later, the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) began closing in on the source of a cross-county, multi-year string of robberies that cost farmers and rural residents thousands in stolen trucks, trailers and tractors.

“We’ve always treated it as one to three people, but early last year, we figured out it was a big, organized group,” Chapman said in January while visiting with Billy and Will McCurdy on their Lowndes County cattle farm. “When we started talking about this article, that next Wednesday, we interviewed a subject who confessed to taking trucks and trailers from this location and started naming people.”

As of press time, SBI was even closer to busting the ring.

It’s a series of organized crimes that started nearly a decade before the McCurdys’ case began in fall 2021.

That night, Billy raced to the farm after the shop alarm tripped. When he arrived and saw the locked gate was removed from its hinges, he called Will.

Will dialed 911, then called the local sheriff. It was the right move per Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) protocol, said Chapman.

SBI Special Agent Chase Chapman, right, updated Lowndes County farmer Billy McCurdy on an ongoing investigation in early January.

SBI is ALEA’s investigative, non-uniform arm. It includes seven regions of officers, like Chapman, tasked with assisting local law enforcement personnel with rural crimes. After filing local reports, victims can report suspicious activity anonymously by emailing or calling 855-75-CRIME.

SBI agents then assist local agencies. The biggest boon comes when officers start talking, piecing together similar cases and crimes. That’s what happened late last year, Chapman said.

“It’s a game to these criminals,” he said. “They talk back and forth on their phones and send pictures.”

Those snapshots focus on trailers. That’s their real target, Chapman said, though the alleged criminals often take trucks, too, to move stolen goods. Rural thefts run the gamut from ATVs to welding equipment. But livestock is the hardest to recover, Chapman said.

“I don’t have a conviction on cattle theft,” Chapman said. “If they’re not branded or tagged, there’s no way to definitively say, ‘That’s my cow.’”

Back in Lowndes County, after officers took initial statements, the McCurdys were realistic, believing their property was likely gone for good.

Then their luck turned.

“I was on the phone ordering two new trucks out of Georgia and got a call saying they’d been found,” Will said.

Three trucks, including a silver Dodge, and one trailer were recovered after thieves broke into the farm in fall 2021.

One Dodge was parked across from Montgomery’s Normandale Shopping Center. Another was recovered off a dirt road in Autauga County with the motor and transmission ripped out, while their feed truck was abandoned off Coosada Parkway. Out of four stolen trailers, just one was retrieved.

“We end up finding some goods by chance,” Chapman said. “They look like they don’t belong. Others are hidden in plain sight, like at truck stops, but the VINs aren’t legitimate.”

Chapman, also a farmer, connects with rural residents’ challenges. While locking up equipment and adding alarms or cameras isn’t foolproof, it’s a strong start, he said.

And if the worst happens, asking SBI for extra assistance is a solid next step.

“I like to help because I know what this feels like,” Chapman said. “Just reach out. We’re here to help.” 

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