A thief managed to drive away in a nearly $80,000 vehicle without even having a key. Police believe it's part of an international car theft ring that has hit Murfreesboro. All the thief needed was the chip inside the key to make a getaway.
There is video from a camera at Toyota of Murfreesboro that shows a salesman walking with what he thought was a customer as two other accomplices follow closely behind. Police said the suspects distracted the salesman and pried open the key.
"After removing the computer chip from the key, the suspect put the key back together, and gave it back to the salesman and left the chip inside the car," said Sgt. Kyle Evans, Murfreesboro police spokesman.
After the dealership closed for the evening, all the thief had to do was pull on the door latch. Since the chip was inside, the computer thought the person had been locked out, and the door opened.
One of the thieves is caught on camera back on the lot later that evening. The video shows the man driving away in a $79,750 Toyota Land Cruiser. Since the chip was in the car, he just pressed the automatic start button to start the SUV.
"We believe the vehicle is then taken to a port somewhere in the United States, and shipped there by freight (by boat or by truck), and shipped to Nigeria," Evans said. "We believe this is part of an international car theft ring involving several people."
Ford of Murfreesboro, 1550 NW Broad St., had a 2007 Nissan Maximum with 100,000 miles on it stolen the weekend before.
Two salesmen followed the vehicle into Smyrna while on the phone with police. Those suspects were arrested. Two weeks later, the same car was stolen again. So the dealership was put on alert.
"I got a corporate email stating it could be a ring of thieves taken them to a port in Georgia and shipping overseas," said Robert Long, Ford of Murfreesboro sales manager.
A 2005 Chevrolet Silverado pickup was stolen from Global Automotive, 5103 NW Broad St., last week as well.
"It seems like these vehicles are being stolen by professionals," said Don Ashworth, Global Automotive sales manager. "I don't know if they are stripping them or shipping them overseas."
Police said the vehicles are hard to track because the crooks remove the battery in order to disable the GPS tracking device.
"It's something we believe again is an organized effort to remove the vehicles from Middle Tennessee and taken out of the country and sold for double, sometimes triple of the value in the United States," Evans said.
Murfreesboro police detectives may have prevented a vehicle from being stolen from a dealership in Nashville. While detectives were on the phone alerting the dealership about the theft ring, possible suspects were on the lot that very moment. The manager alerted the salesman, who refused to hand over the key.