When socks started showing up in the yards around the 7700 block of West Main in Belleville, detectives knew the likely suspect.
James M. Dowdy, 43, of 7702 W. Main St. in Belleville, has been arrested more than a dozen times for stealing socks. He was charged again with burglary on Tuesday afternoon.
The investigation involved neighbors, two search warrants, a bait car, a surveillance camera, a tracking device, a basket of laundry and dogged police work to get the charges.
“We recognized the potential danger for a more traumatic victimization, which is why we took such a proactive stance regarding this case and this individual,” said Belleville Police Detective Sgt. Mark Heffernan.
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Police received a call on May 12 from a woman who lived in the 7600 block of West Main Street who reported that in a week’s time she found four socks in her yard, according to a search warrant.
“Belleville Police Department has had numerous incidents with James Dowdy of taking socks from residences and other types of sock-related incidents, with his using socks in an inappropriate and obscene manner,” the search warrant stated.
The next day, detectives parked a city-owned car behind a home in the 7600 block of West Main, according to the search warrant. Inside the car, they placed a laundry basket full of clothing with the letters “BPD” marked on them. The detectives also placed a tracker device that notified them if the basket was moved. A camera was placed outside the car.
On Monday at 11:31 a.m., the tracker went off.
The laundry basket was there, but several pairs of socks that were mixed in the laundry were gone, the search warrant stated. A review of the digital images taken from the camera revealed a man walking away from the car with items in his hand.
Detectives then asked a judge for a search warrant, which was granted. In Dowdy’s home, they discovered three socks marked “BPD” that they previously placed in the laundry basket.
“Also in the residence in James Dowdy’s bedroom are several paper notebooks which have handwriting in them listing children’s names, ages and socks they are wearing,” the search warrant stated. “Additionally, there are numerous socks in multiple colors and sizes, some clearly juvenile sizes, throughout Dowdy’s bedroom.”
In Dowdy’s room, police found 28 socks, according to the search warrant documents.
“The residents who lived in the area fear this circumstance. We stand with them to address their concerns,” Heffernan said.
Even though there is a sexual component to the crime, Heffernan said there is no basis to charge Dowdy with a sex crime. Dowdy was charged on Tuesday afternoon with vehicular burglary.
Diana Appleton, a clinical social worker and therapist, said possessing socks could be a sexual fetish. A fetish is defined as an object or bodily part whose real or fantasized presence is psychologically necessary for sexual gratification and that is an object of fixation to the extent that it may interfere with complete sexual expression.
“Its root is in the need for nurturing and love, then it becomes sexualized,” Appleton said.
Appleton does not treat Dowdy. She spoke in general about fetishes.
Stealing the socks, Appleton said, is significant.
“It’s about the taking,” she said.
Dowdy’s history for sock stealing dates back at least to 1993, when he received a 3-year prison sentence for attempted burglary after police caught him with a bag of stolen socks. He also served six years in prison for breaking into another woman’s home and taking socks. He received a 12-year prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to walking into a woman’s home and taking her socks in 2008. He was still on parole for that offense when he was arrested on Monday.
“If feeling socks is soothing to him and somehow gives him what he needs, the consequences may not outweigh the comfort,” Appleton said.
Dowdy is being held in the St. Clair County Jail on $300,000.