BORDEAUX, France (AFP) — After years of playing cat-and-mouse with police, a man who punctured the tyres of thousands of cars around the south-western French city of Bordeaux has finally been apprehended.
The 45-year-old, arrested Wednesday, carried out his campaign of vandalism for six years, planning his nocturnal puncturing trips with the precision of a thief preparing a bank heist.
The man, who has yet to be named, told police he acted in anger against society.
He has slashed up to 70 tyres a night since 2011, choosing neighbourhoods at random around the port city to stay one step ahead of the police.
By his own estimate, the unemployed “serial puncturer” — a nickname he gave himself — vandalised 6,000 cars around the French wine capital, a figure deemed by police to be “credible”.
Investigators said they breathed a “huge sigh of relief” following the capture of a suspect they have been chasing since 2014 after realising they were dealing with a serial offender.
He had made their life difficult by leaving no DNA evidence and stealthily avoiding CCTV cameras, keeping deliberately irregular hours and routes to throw them off the scent.
What's more, he often punctured the tyres gently so that they deflated slowly, making it even harder to track his movements.
“It might seem like something to laugh about,” Bordeaux prosecutor Marie-Madeleine Alliot acknowledged Thursday.
But it was no laughing matter for residents who woke up to find their tyres slashed — or for authorities who were handed 1,100 complaints, including from one hapless motorist who was hit six times.
The culprit meticulously planned his targets in a notebook in which he included details of CCTV cameras to avoid and scheduling his exploits all the way up to December next year.
He even wrote in code, inverting house numbers to confuse potential readers.
He would set off under the cover of darkness, often striking between 2:00 am and 5:00 am before taking the first tram home, said Nicolas Perez, the police officer leading the inquiry.
It was a photo taken by a resident that finally allowed police to catch up with him.
He was arrested at 2:00 am on Wednesday as he was heading out on one of his usual excursions, and quickly admitted to his crimes.
The full motives of the tyre puncturer, who has no criminal record, have yet to be unravelled.
But initial inquiries suggested an “obsessive and solitary personality”, Alliot said.
Police said he expressed bitterness towards society and a desire for “revenge” after being mistreated as a child.
He appears to have been inspired by a cobbler's puncturing tool he found in the street in 2011.
“He wanted to be noticed, to feel like he was being heard,” said deputy prosecutor Jean-Claude Belot, noting that the puncturer enjoyed reading press coverage of his antics.
He has been charged with wilful damage to private property for which he could face up to two years in jail and a 300,000-euro (US$357,000) fine.