Serial burglars admit to armed home invasion, jewelry store burglary

Convicted serial burglar Bernard McAllister, cooperating with authorities during a jailhouse interview in June with the hope of leniency, ended the so-called “proffer” session with a bombshell.

“There’s more,” he told six state and federal prosecutors and detectives after giving them details of dozens of burglaries.

McAllister, 43, of Lisbon, admitted that he and his partner in crime, 46-year-old Mark Missino of Waterford, hoping for “one last big score,” had carried out the armed home invasion in November 2009 of a jewelry store manager’s Griswold home and the subsequent burglary of the Grader’s jewelry store on West Main Street in Norwich.

McAllister and Missino had been known, until now, as a pair of thieves who broke into unoccupied homes and stole more than $1 million worth of goods that they hoarded in an East Lyme storage facility. The crimes stretched all the way from Stonington and East Lyme to Greenwich and New Canaan.

The home invasion and “jewelry heist” that McAllister described during the proffer session at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution was more violent and more personal than the others. The two men forced entry into the 63-year-old jewelry store manager’s home, confronted the sleeping man and his 61-year-old wife with guns and demanded the manager provide a floor plan of the store, alarm codes and the combinations to the store safes, according to a court document released Thursday.

Missino and McAllister bound the couple and locked them in a bathroom, stole their sport utility vehicle and broke into the jewelry store. They later torched the stolen car and left it on Leffingwell Road in Montville.

Both men have been incarcerated since 2010 and await sentencing on state and federal charges. McAllister, who is facing at least 16 years in prison, had been offered immunity for any new information he provided, but Missino was charged with the home invasion and jewelry store burglary on Thursday in New London Superior Court. Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Paul J. Narducci said Missino pleaded guilty to the crimes and that by agreement with Missino and his attorney, the case would be resolved as part of a global plea deal that involves a 25-year prison sentence.

In his confession, McAllister said the two men conceived the idea of the home invasion and jewelry store burglary while incarcerated together in the late 1990s and started planning in earnest in 2008, when Missino needed $13,000 to keep his house out of foreclosure.

“McAllister figured it would be one last big score and they would be done with it and go legit,” according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

They targeted Grader’s “because it was convenient for McAllister, who was living in Lisbon at the time,” according to the affidavit. They initially planned to rob the assistant manager but changed their plan when they discovered she had a big dog and a college-age daughter living at home. They decided instead to break into the store manager’s home, which was in a secluded area.

They staked out the store manager to learn his daily routine and picked a date for the heist. They bought two sets of overalls and black boots in size 13, which was too big for them but designed to throw off investigators. They bought knee and elbow pads and painted them black and stencils for lettering the shirts with “FBI.”

The two men conducted dry runs and practiced in the East Lyme storage unit “to make sure they were prepared for anything and everything,” McAllister said in his confession. They even staked out an East Lyme motel worker who routinely stubbed out cigarettes in an outdoor ashtray so they could steal the butts and plant DNA evidence at the home invasion scene to throw police off the trail.

McAllister went on to describe a less-than-perfect crime that yielded the two men about 85 Citizen brand watches, valued at more than $10,000, some of which they would eventually toss away in New London in an effort to confuse investigators.

The home invasion and burglary did, however, remain unsolved until McAllister provided the authorities with details that only somebody involved in the case would know.

State police discovered the crimes when a trooper went to the store manager’s home at 8 a.m. to follow up with the registered owners of the abandoned car that had been burned in Montville. The trooper heard a “thumping” noise inside the house and eventually found the homeowners locked in the bathroom. The door had been secured with hinges and screws, and the robbers had told the couple not to open it because it was wired with dynamite.

The couple said were awakened about 1 or 2 a.m. by male voices yelling, “FBI!” They said the robbers came into their bedroom with flashlights and guns and demanded they get onto their stomachs. The robbers tied them to dining room chairs and demanded that the store manager draw a floor plan of the store and provide the safe combinations and alarm codes. The store manager said he asked one of the robbers for identification and the man pointed at the gun he was holding and said, “This is my ID.”

The couple said the robbers were dressed all in black with “Ninja-like” masks on their faces and had reflecting FBI lettering on their shirts that the wife said looked inauthentic. The robbers locked the couple in the bathroom before they left, telling them that they were going to wire the door with dynamite and would return and disarm it if things went well at the store. If not, they said, they would return and murder them and “go after their children and workers at Grader’s.”

McAllister told the authorities that he didn’t want anything bad to happen to the victims, and that even though he and Missino tied them, they still gave the “old people” their medication and water. He said the “bomb” was actually a couple of wooden dowels wrapped in black electrical tape with some wires and a clock face.

Entering the jewelry store with latex “president” masks on, the thieves had trouble opening the safe, just as the manager had warned them, McAllister said, so they decided to grab a bunch of watches from the display case. They were sweating so profusely during the burglary that McAllister said he used bleach to spray down the store to dilute any DNA they might have left behind. Missino removed one of the store’s security systems before they left. Missino dropped off McAllister at his car and drove to an area in Montville where they had previously stored gasoline cans. He set the car on fire. McAllister picked him up, and they went to the East Lyme storage unit to drop off the stolen goods.

A few days later, McAllister said they rented a car in Norwich and drove to New London and dumped the watches on the street near a homeless camping area, leaving the tags on so that the watches would be traced to the jewelry store and investigators would be thrown off track.

A few weeks later, state police questioned a woman who pawned several new Citizen watches at the Yankee Pawn and Peddlar in Groton. The woman said a man she knew had found a zip-close plastic bag full of new Citizens watches on the ground while walking in the Hodges Square area in New London. Another of the stolen watches was pawned in New London by two males who said they found them on Briggs Street in New London with the tag still on them.

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