By Message Staff
Authorities have arrested a suspect allegedly responsible for a string of church burglaries in Grant, Rapides and Natchitoches parishes from July to December 2016.
According to a news release from the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office, Charles Wiltz of New Iberia conducted most of the break-ins during the evening and on weekends, concentrating on rural areas. The last burglary related to the investigation was reported on Dec. 12.
Eight Louisiana Baptist churches were vandalized during that time, including Wayside Baptist Church in Pollock, Alpine First Baptist Church, Bethel Baptist Church in Colfax, First Baptist Church in Lecompte, Lamourie Baptist Church in Lecompte, Oak Grove Baptist Church in Bentley, Gateway Baptist Church in Ball and Riverview Baptist Church in Alexandria.
“It’s a relief knowing he’s not going to be able to do it anymore,” said Jeremy Brister, pastor of Oak Grove Baptist Church. “The only good thing that can come out of this is people can get saved from future break-ins he may have committed.”
Lucas LaCour, pastor of Alpine First Baptist Church, who has more than 16 years of experience serving with the Grant Parish Sheriff Department, said in a Dec. 13 article off the Baptist Message that the suspect or suspects broke a window and then forced their way into the church offices and worship center sometime after the evening hours of Dec. 4, searching through cabinets, drawers and even under the baptistery for cash. However, the church did not have any money on hand and had surveillance cameras on its premises.
According to an RPSO press release, Wiltz was captured on surveillance cameras during several burglaries, but “went to great lengths to disguise himself and his mode of transportation.”
LaCour noted they were “very fortunate. I’m really praying for those folks.”
Wiltz is charged with 10 counts of burglary of a religious building and eight counts of simple burglary in Rapides Parish. Grant Parish Detectives also have charged Wiltz with nine counts of simple burglary, four of which occurred in churches.
He is being held in the Rapides Parish Detention Center on a $106,600.00 bond.
“Criminals do not honor jurisdictional lines and when they do commit crimes in other jurisdictions, law enforcement comes together with one goal in mind; to put that offender in jail and that is what our detectives from these agencies did,” said Rapides Parish Sheriff William Earl Hilton in a news release. “I would like to commend our detectives, Sheriff McCain of Grant Parish and his detectives, Sheriff Jones of Natchitoches Parish and his detectives as well as Chief (Nate) Ussery and the Ball PD and their detectives for all of their assistance in this lengthy investigation. Working together every day to help keep our communities safe is job one to all of us as leaders of our agencies.”
Grant Parish Sheriff Steven McCain said Wiltz is a career criminal, recording his first arrest in 1977. Over the course of the last 40 years, Wiltz has served several sentences in prison, McCain noted.
“He’s right where he needs to be,” McCain said. “I don’t know how much lower you can go than stealing from the church. He has no connection to Grant, Rapides or Natchitoches parishes and it’s a relief to pastors and business owners to know he is not coming back.”
After months of investigations, detectives received a break in the case when they compared evidence at different crime scenes and had enough evidence to issue an arrest warrant for a burglary Wiltz allegedly committed in Cheneyville.
On Feb. 22, detectives from Rapides and Grant parishes and the Ball Police Department traveled to and met with Iberia Parish Sheriff’s detectives, which resulted in issuing a search warrant at Wiltz’s residence. While there, authorities discovered several items linking him to the burglaries in Grant and Rapides parishes.
He was taken into custody at Iberia Parish jail, and soon after was transported to Rapides Parish Detention Center, where he is currently being held on a $106,600 bond. The Grant Parish Sheriff’s Office also has a hold placed on him.
An investigation remains ongoing and more arrests are possible, according to the sheriff’s office.