By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - Police arrested a suspect as Arizona's notorious "Rock Burglar" on Friday after a 17-year crime spree that netted more than $10 million in cash and other loot from affluent homeowners, authorities said.
Robert James Neese, who authorities allege smashed his way into homes by tossing a melon-sized rock through a window, was arrested without incident at a Phoenix restaurant, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said.
The 58-year-old, whose alleged victims include former vice president Dan Quayle and ex-pro baseball players Mark Grace and Steve Finley, is believed to be responsible for about 400 burglaries of luxury homes in the Phoenix area, Arpaio said.
Neese was connected to the burglaries through his DNA and other physical evidence taken from the crime scenes, he said.
"In the end, it was cutting edge police technology used by my Fountain Hills detectives that led us to this criminal," Arpaio said in a statement.
After smashing his way into homes, the Rock Burglar would grab items like jewelry, cash and handguns and be gone in minutes. Master bathroom windows were targeted because they were often without alarms or sensors.
Investigators said the burglar would watch for signs that a homeowner was gone, such as newspapers accumulating in the driveway, and then make his move. But there was no consistent pattern for when or where he would rob residences.
Police had been tight-lipped about what clues they had collected since the burglar first struck three times in the wealthy enclave of Paradise Valley in 1993.
They recovered two handguns taken during the burglaries, but could not tie them to an individual. In 1995, a homeowner caught the Rock Burglar in the act, but the man was able to escape after a brief struggle.
A $15,000 reward had been posted and authorities spent tens of thousands of dollars on special operations to nab him.
Three months ago, detectives identified three local homes as possible targets and put them under surveillance.
Neese was arrested on May 15 when he attempted to break into one of the homes but was released after authorities obtained a DNA sample.
(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Peter Bohan)