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Coin job foiled

Car wash owner uses spare parts to rig surveillance system; suspect caught
Staff Writer

A Jackson car wash owner is gleaming after he did his own wax and wash job on a suspected burglar.

In June, Jackson Street Car Wash, 436 N. Jackson St., was broken into three times and more than $400 in quarters and other equipment including a personal computer was stolen.

As the crime spree continued, owner Frank D. Ferris became worked up in a lather. The formerly employed electrical engineer hatched a plan to catch his crook in the act, rigging up a surveillance system from spare parts.

After a fourth break-in the night of July 1, the owner triumphantly marched into the Jackson Police Department with an incriminating video the next day.

"I told the gal at the front desk, 'I got burglarized and I'm happy about it.' I was even happier when I found out they may have caught the guy later that night," said Ferris, 48, who assumed ownership of the business in February after his older brother, Robert Ferris, 53, died of a heart attack.

Police used video stills to identify the suspect, who was arrested by Officer Mike Rucinski later that night. The suspect was believed to have pawned some of the stolen goods, a police spokesman said. The case remains under investigation.

On Tuesday, Oscar J. Gipson was charged with breaking and entering in District Court. He has a preliminary exam at 9:30 a.m. Wednesdaybefore District Judge Charles Falahee.

Gipson was being held at the county jail in lieu of $2,500 cash surety bond.

"(Ferris) was a good guy to work with," Lt. John Holda said. "We were watching the business closely and it was frustrating because the burglaries continued.

"Luckily he had the tape rolling."

The Jackson native doesn't claim to be Cecil B. Demille of the car wash industry, but knows a thing or two about wiring. He worked 15 years in the machine tool industry, his father Frank C. Ferris said.

The 1983 Michigan Technological University graduate tapped his electrical engineering knowledge, particularly when coming across an unused 15-year-old alarm system a previous owner left behind.

Ferris figured out the security code and had the warning device working properly. He put a motion sensor on a light switch, which tripped the alarm.

He also bought a siren at Radio Shack on E. Michigan Avenue.

"I think when that went off, (the burglar) thought the cops were already there," Ferris said.

In putting together the makeshift system, he also used a wireless camera he bought on the Internet five years ago for $80.

After strategically placing the lens in the car wash office, he set up two VCRs, hiding one underneath trash bags in a utility room.

"I figured that was the way to go because there would be no wires he could follow," Ferris said.

On June 26, Ferris set the VCRs to start recording at 10 p.m. However, the burglar snuck in before then and stole an arc welder and kerosene heater.

Undeterred, Ferris readjusted the timer and, on the night of July 1, the intruder was caught on tape breaking in.

When the alarm sounded, he panicked and escaped after kicking open a bathroom door. The thief left empty-handed.

Ferris moved back to the Jackson area where his parents Frank C. and Betty Ferris live four years ago after residing and working in the Detroit area.

Ferris' brother, who owned the car wash for three years, enlisted his younger sibling's electrical expertise when a control system when haywire.

When his brother died in February, his niece suggested he take over ownership of the soft cloth car wash operation.

"I'd probably do more business if I advertised and put my heart into it more," he said. "I thought it would be nice to get back near family...

"Sometimes I think I'm a fool for running this place, but that's where I'm at right now."

-- Reach reporter Larry O'Connor at 768-4926 or

© 2004 Jackson Citizen Patriot. Used with permission

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