A notorious cat burglar who raided the homes of the rich and famous for ten years came to Britain as a bogus Kosovan refugee, his brother said last night.
After an astonishing crime spree that saw him nicknamed the ‘Wimbledon Prowler’, Asdrit Kapaj, 42, pleaded guilty yesterday to a string of burglaries.
The married father-of-two admitted stealing jewellery and cash – believed to be worth at least £500,000 – during 22 burglaries in the wealthy London suburb dating back to 2008.
It has previously been suggested that he is responsible for many more raids, with a total value as high as £10million, which would make him one of Europe’s most prolific thieves.
Asdrit Kapaj (left) lived a seemingly quiet and unassuming life with his wife Radi (right), running a fish and chip shop in Greater Manchester, but has now been unmasked as a burglar
A court heard yesterday that Kapaj is a Kosovan citizen who came to the UK as a teenager in the 1990s. But last night his oldest brother Nexhip Kapaj cast serious doubt over his claims, saying he is in fact Albanian. He told the Daily Mail that his brother was born in a hospital near the village of Gjorm, about 20 miles from the city of Vlore in southern Albania, in 1977, and has no links to Kosovo.
His brother Nexhip said that claiming to be a Kosovan was the easiest way for Albanians to gain entry to the UK. Last night the Home Office said it would not comment on the burglar’s case, but UK officials are likely to be investigating his background.
In the 1990s, during the former Yugoslavia’s civil war, many Albanians claimed to be Kosovan refugees because their claim to live in Britain was far more likely to be accepted. If he is indeed Albanian, he may have had no right to settle in the UK.
Last night Kapaj’s victims in Wimbledon Village were celebrating the end of his reign of terror, with some saying they would hold a drinks party to celebrate his guilty pleas. Many attended Kingston Crown Court in south-west London yesterday to watch him admit his crimes.
Laurie Porter, chairman of the Wimbledon Safer Neighbourhood Police Panel, said: ‘People had always been aware that he was creeping around our gardens, and I think I can speak for most of us when I say we are sleeping more easily now he has been caught. I am very grateful to the police for finally apprehending him.’ Kapaj regularly drove 220 miles in his Mercedes to Wimbledon to carry out the raids, it emerged in court. At the time he was living in Altrincham, near Manchester, living a seemingly quiet and unassuming life with his wife and running a fish and chip shop.
The childhood home of 42-year-old Albanian Asdrit Kapaj, in the remote Southern Albanian village of Gjorm, where he was born and raised
He recently sold the takeaway and yesterday the new owners told of their shock that he had carried out the crimes.
One man, who did not want to give his name, said: ‘I still find it incredible that he found the time to travel down to London and carry out these burglaries.’
Police spent a decade fruitlessly searching for Kapaj. He appears to have almost exclusively targeted homes surrounding the All-England Lawn Tennis Club in the upmarket SW19 postcode.
He was fastidious, only striking at night after climbing drainpipes and ladders to avoid alarms.
He slipped between gardens and had a network of routes which he knew he could exploit to avoid walking around in public.
He previously worked as an electrical engineer and could disable CCTV cameras. He was finally arrested on February 22 this year after being stopped outside a house carrying a torch, pen knife and wearing gloves and a snood.
Chip shop owner Asdrit Kapaj (pictured, left in a police mugshot released today) has admitted being the prolific burglar known as the ‘Wimbledon Prowler’
Kapaj had the keys to his Mercedes on him. When detectives checked the number plate on their ANPR recognition systems, they found his journeys down from Manchester coincided with many of the burglaries.
Kapaj gave his nationality in court as Yugoslavian. When asked for more information by the judge, defence barrister Hugh Mullan QC said his client was a ‘Serbian Kosovan’ who came to Britain age 16 in the 1990s and had been granted indefinite leave to remain.He added that his client was ‘half Serbian and half Albanian’.
Kapaj admitted 21 counts of burglary, two counts of attempted burglary and a further count of going equipped for burglary.
He is also charged with three more burglaries, although the Crown Prosecution Service has not decided if it will proceed with them. One relates to the home of tennis champion Boris Becker.
Kapaj’s lawyer did not respond to a request to comment when asked about his client’s claims to be Kosovan last night.
‘I can sleep soundly tonight at last’: Retired teacher, 67, whose home was burgled THREE times by Wimbledon Prowler celebrates as thief is caught
Daniela McBride (pictured) is celebrating after the Wimbledon Prowler was caught
By James Fielding for MailOnline
A victim of the Wimbledon Prowler breathed a sigh of relief tonight and said: ‘I can sleep soundly tonight at last.’
Daniela McBride and her husband Lars believe they were targeted at least three times by burglar thief Asdrit Kapaj.
The couple had £6,000 worth of jewellery and around £1,500 in cash stolen in the final raid in December 2015.
Mrs McBride spoke out after the 42-year-old thief – now in custody – admitted carrying out 24 burglaries in the well-heeled London suburb, targeting rich and famous residents.
Kapaj – who drove 200 miles south from his home in Altrincham, Manchester to go on his robbing sprees – counted tennis legend Boris Becker as one of his victims.
Retired teacher Mrs McBride, 67, told MailOnline: ‘I’m really pleased the police finally got him and that he’s admitted his guilt.
‘I just hope that I can get some of the jewellery back because it had a lot of sentimental value. But I’m not too sure I ever will.
‘It’s a horrible feeling knowing that a stranger has been inside your home and gone through all your personal belongings.’
She said the Prowler had first struck in 2013 when she had heard an intruder downstairs and noticed the next morning that £40 had gone from her purse.
In 2015 he stole more cash before returning for a final time in December that year and taking home a huge haul of stolen goods.
A map shows how the Prowler targeted homes not far from Wimbledon’s famous tennis club
Mrs McBride said: ‘On both occasions we think he may have come in after forcing open the kitchen door, either there or a side door leading from the driveway.
‘It was the week before Christmas that my daughter noticed that her ring she kept in a jewellery box had gone, along with two bracelets that both sets of grandparents had given her.
‘I discoverer that a three-diamond ring had been taken from on top of my chest of drawers along with some of my necklaces and bracelets. My husband then found that his cuff links were missing.
‘Quite a bit of cash was stolen as well – both in pounds sterling and euros – probably amounting to £,1500.
‘After that, the police used our top room upstairs to stakeout the house and road for two weeks at night in the hope of catching him.
‘But they never did as he was obviously quite cunning.
‘The police also set up cameras outside the house on the main road. Last summer I asked them if they’d got him and they said ‘not yet…but we’ve caught six other burglars’.’
The homes of German tennis legend Boris Becker (pictured left) and ex-Chelsea and Arsenal footballer Nicolas Anelka (pictured right) were among those hit
Mrs McBride, a mother of three and grandmother of one, added: ‘Although we suspect he’s been here at least three times it could’ve been more.
‘He may have been stolen keys and had them cut secretly when we were away so he could keep coming back.
‘There’s a few times when I’ve noticed cash missing and can’t remember what I’ve done with it.
‘That’s how he started off, pinching small amounts so people didn’t necessarily realise they’d been burgled.
‘Frankly it doesn’t bear thinking about really but at least he’s where he belongs now and won’t be troubling us or others in Wimbledon for quite some time.’
Wimbledon Village residents, including 81-year-old victim Philippa Beck, were in court to celebrate his guilty pleas.
Ms Beck, who was the gold watch owner, said she was amazed when she learned that the burglar was making a nearly 500-mile round trip to target the area.
His motivation, she suggested, may have been ‘a buzz’ rather than a necessity for money. She believes he regularly used her back garden as a through route.
Sinister double life of man with a dangerous addiction to burglary: To friends he was a ‘proud father’ and ‘true gentleman’ – to his victims he was ‘evil’ home raider who terrified families for a decade
By Tom Rawstorne and Stephen Wright for the Daily Mail
To friends and neighbours, there seemed plenty about Asdrit Kapaj to admire.
A refugee who had apparently fled the horrors of the Kosovan war, he had, in the two decades since arriving in the UK, devoted his time and much effort to running his takeaway restaurant and bringing up his young family.
Pictures on social media show a smartly-dressed man proudly posing arm-in-arm with his wife Radie, a Tesco worker, and their eight-year-old daughter and son, four. ‘He’s a really hard-working guy who worked all hours at his fish and chip shop,’ said a friend and work colleague living close to his home in Manchester.
‘He would peel spuds for two hours at a time. I worked for him for many years – he is a true gentleman.’
Another neighbour added: ‘He’d do odd jobs for people – he was a pillar of the community.’
A couple of hundred miles south, in the suburbs of London, those who’ve had the misfortune to cross paths with Kapaj, 42, describe him in very different terms.
CCTV shows Kapaj in his trademark fishing hat during one of his raids in south London
There they know him as The Wimbledon Prowler – an ‘evil’ man who for the past ten years has terrorised this affluent corner of south-west London.
Yesterday, he pleaded guilty to 21 burglaries and two attempted burglaries, but police believe he was behind hundreds more, stealing cash, jewellery and other property worth some £10million.
The sheer scale of his one-man crimewave led police to describe the Prowler as, not just the country’s, but Europe’s most prolific burglar.
Kapaj’s modus operandi was clinically effective, leaving those he stole from baffled and terrified in equal measure.
Targetting multi-million pound houses mainly within the SW19 postcode surrounding the All England Lawn Tennis Club, he operated under cover of darkness. He would use ladders or shimmy up drainpipes to avoid burglar alarms and get into properties as their occupants slept.
Once inside, he aimed to leave no trace. Shunning obvious items such as iPads and laptops, he would focus instead on cash or jewellery, carefully closing drawers and putting items back in place as he went.
In this way, he could return multiple times, using knowledge obtained and keys stolen on previous visits to come and go. Even if homeowners subsequently realised property was missing, they often did not blame a burglar as they did not know a break-in had occurred.
Cleaners and au-pairs were sacked and children accused. In some cases, it was only when CCTV cameras were installed that they realised what had actually been going on.
Not that being caught on camera seemed to unduly bother the burglar. Wearing a snood or a fisherman’s hat pulled low over his head, he would further disguise his appearance by raising a hand to obscure the lower part of his face. Cameras and alarms would also routinely be disabled.
For Kapaj that would have been a straightforward task – on his children’s birth certificates he gives his profession as ‘electrical engineer’.
Celebrities, sportsmen, businessmen and City workers with young families were all targeted. Tennis ace Boris Becker and footballer Nicolas Anelka both fell foul of him. The latter even gave chase but, incredibly, Kapaj was able to outrun the sportsman. Following his arrest in February, those who knew him questioned whether police had the right man. He was caught red-handed by police in Wimbledon wearing a snood over his face and carrying a bag of tools.
‘There is just bread in the fridge,’ his tearful wife shouted during an earlier court hearing at which the scale of the burglaries he was accused of was outlined. In other words, if he was responsible, where had the proceeds of his crimes gone?
The Prowler struck at night, often shinning up drains or disabling alarm systems
One of the burglaries Kapaj admitted to yesterday involved the theft of jewellery worth £371,855 from a single house.
But during earlier hearings it emerged that Kapaj was a gambling addict – a vice that, it would appear, even his wife was unaware of. And, as the Daily Mail can today reveal, that’s not the only part of this supposedly respectable businessman’s story that does not bear scrutiny.
Asdrit Kapaj was born in 1977 in the village of Gjorm, about 20 miles from the city of Vlore, in Southern Albania.
He was the youngest of five – three boys and two girls – born to a former member of the Albanian anti-communist resistance and his much younger second wife.
Kapaj’s late father spent around 20 years in prison for killing two Communists in Albania in 1944 and life was difficult for the Kapaj family under Communist rule in the 1970s and 1980s.
Home was a two-room shack, the remains of which are still in the grounds of the family’s relatively new bungalow where the burglar’s frail mother still lives. Kapaj attended the primary school in Gjorm, but in the early 1990s, following the fall of Communism, he moved across the border to neighbouring Greece.
It was a familiar trail for tens of thousands of desperate Albanians. For a time he worked as a waiter, but sources told the Mail that, while there, Kapaj got in trouble with the authorities.
Precise details remain unclear but, having returned to Albania, by the late 1990s, he had once again set his eyes on a move abroad – this time to the United Kingdom, where Tony Blair’s Labour government was allowing thousands of Kosovan refugees to settle.
His oldest brother Nexhip Kapaj told the Mail yesterday that he tried ‘two or three times’ to enter Britain as a Kosovan refugee before he was accepted. He said that their middle brother Bilal had already moved to the UK.
Philippa Beck, 81, (left) was one of his victims. Laurie Porter (right), from Wimbledon neighbour watch, said residents would be ‘sleeping more easily’
‘Like many Albanians did during the Kosovan War, claiming to be a Kosovan was the easiest way to gain entry to the UK,’ his brother, a former port policeman, said. According to a respected village elder in Gjorm, Kapaj spent around £600 on making the trip from Albania to the UK.
He was one of up to 30 local young men who took a speedboat to Lecce, Italy, before making their way through Europe – probably in the back of a lorry.
His brother said: ‘I used to tell him to go to the US. He said ‘No, England is better. I will never leave England, it’s an excellent country. It’s a kingdom, a very bright country with rule of law and it is quiet’.’
After settling in the UK, Kapaj returned to Albania for an arranged marriage with a young woman from a nearby village. The couple set up home together back in England, where both now have citizenship.
Despite this, Kapaj would return to Albania to visit his mother most summers. In 2017 villagers recall him arriving in a ‘beautiful’ Mercedes with British number plates which they estimated to be worth about £80,000. Kapaj settled in London, working as a builder. The Mail understands that at one stage he both lived and worked in Wimbledon, so gaining an insight into the affluent area that he would later target.
By the time of his daughter’s birth in 2010, he and his wife were renting a flat in east London. He left the property because he needed more space for his young family, moving first to Barking and then on to Manchester.
‘They were a happy couple,’ his landlord said. ‘He was a very nice person, very quiet, very educated. I could tell this from the way he spoke.’
After moving north to Timperley, a suburban village near Altrincham, he ran a number of fish and chip shops. He owned one takeaway in the village, only selling the outlet for £59,500 last October.
But as the world now knows, Kapaj was living an extraordinary double life. Quite how he got away with it for so long remains unclear. And, because of his early guilty pleas, a number of questions remain unanswered.
For starters, given the distance he was living from London and the long hours spent running his takeaway, how did he explain away his regular trips to and from the capital?
The break-ins appeared to happen in clusters, after which the culprit would lie low for a few months. Why was this? Since his arrest, police have been able to precisely match the movements of Kapaj’s car with the timings of the burglaries.
A CCTV image of the Wimbledon Prowler – a fish and chip shop owner in Altrincham – at work
Secondly, how did he dispose of the stolen goods, many of which were distinctive items of jewellery or family heirlooms? Police say they have no idea, admitting they never had a ‘sniff’ of them being sold on the black market. Might Kapaj have had help from other criminals to ship the goods out of the country?
Those mysteries aside, what police are all too familiar with are the way he chose to operate when out at ‘work’ in Wimbledon.
During his decade-long crimewave, detectives made a number of appeals asking for the public to help catch the burglar.
At one point, they placed undercover officers in a family’s house every night for two weeks in the hope of catching the Prowler. All to no avail.
In 2014 that Boris Becker’s wife Lilly appeared on the BBC’s Crimewatch programme to tell how their Wimbledon home had been targeted twice by a burglar.
She revealed how CCTV cameras from the property captured a man approaching through the back garden and fleeing when he triggered an alarm. The man returned a second time, cutting the wires to their CCTV system.
Other CCTV images showed a burglar, a torch in one hand and covering the lower half of his face with the other, carrying out a meticulous search of a kitchen.
Unhurried, he spent eight minutes opening every cupboard, before picking up a bag from the floor, emptying it, then – having found nothing to his taste – carefully replacing each item, leaving it precisely where he found it. Finally, he picked up a purse from the counter top, removed a selection of banknotes and walked out.
Another time he was spotted scaling a fence and settling himself down for a picnic in a large wooden playhouse in the garden.
In 2016, police released new footage of the suspect stealing a safe containing £100,000. The images showed the 45kg safe containing cash and jewellery being dropped on the lawn from an upstairs window. Two minutes later, a man could be seen collecting the safe and calmly walking away.
He stole more than £370,000-worth of valuables from a property in this private street next to Wimbledon’s famous All England Tennis Club
As the years passed, police began to speculate that the burglar might be revelling in the notoriety, breaking in just for the thrill. Other aspects baffled them. Why did he sometimes target women’s clothing including mink coats, Prada shoes and Gucci handbags? And what about the safe from which he stole a single earring from each of 30 pairs?
Of course, what cannot be underestimated is the impact on the victims. He clearly had no qualms about returning to the same property time and time again.
On at least six occasions, people inside their homes disturbed the burglar. Fortunately he fled immediately each time.
Many wealthy residents ended up transforming their homes into fortresses, buying the latest security systems and Rottweiler guard dogs. Even then they spoke of living in fear, unable to ever relax at night.
David Kyffin, whose detached home was targeted three times two years, called the burglar ‘evil’.
‘It is awful because you start to suspect everyone around you, your friends, your family,’ he said. ‘It’s a horrible feeling because you know someone has been in your home.’
Another resident, speaking on condition of anonymity, said her home was broken into while her family slept.
‘He climbed up the back of our house and got in through the balcony doors that weren’t locked,’ she said. ‘He took money and my husband’s watch. He was so quiet even the dog didn’t wake up. I was really upset because he had been on our landing and my kids get up all the time in the night.
‘You don’t care about what someone has stolen – it’s about privacy and security being violated.
‘I’ve had so many sleepless nights worrying about whether he’d come back.’ Finally – and thankfully – not any more.