Police use tobacco spit to nab burglary suspect

Wednesday, December 24, 2008 | 11:25 a.m. CST; updated 12:36 p.m. CST, Wednesday, December 24, 2008

OKLAHOMA CITY — Investigators in eastern Oklahoma turned to some unusual evidence to catch a suspect in a string of burglaries — tobacco spit the suspect left behind at the crime scene.

Randy Lee Shoopman Jr., 33, of Tahlequah, has been charged with second-degree burglary in six eastern Oklahoma counties, and investigators suspect he may be involved in heists in as many as 11 cities across eastern Oklahoma and in Missouri, said officer Brad Robertson, a spokesman for the Tahlequah Police Department.

Shoopman has been taken into custody in California on an unrelated charge. A telephone message left Wednesday with Shoopman's Muskogee attorney was not immediately returned.

Stilwell Police Detective Chad Smith said he was investigating the September burglary of a local insurance company when he noticed a tobacco stain on a pile of papers in the ransacked office.

"None of the ladies that worked there chewed tobacco," Smith said. "You could tell that the stains were from the suspect."

Smith said he took a sample of the spit and sent it to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation for testing. He soon spoke with detectives in Tahlequah, who already were looking at Shoopman as a possible suspect in a string of burglaries.

Tahlequah Detective Jeff Haney obtained a warrant to get a DNA sample from Shoopman, which linked him to several burglaries in which the suspect left behind tobacco spit, Robertson said.

Robertson said Shoopman was released on bail before the DNA match was obtained.

"That's why he's in custody in California and not Oklahoma," Robertson said.

Shannon Otteson, assistant district attorney in Adair County, said officials there hope to have Shoopman extradited from California soon to face charges in Oklahoma. She said having a conclusive DNA match linking a suspect to a crime is a tremendous benefit to prosecutors.

"Eyewitness testimony is unreliable at best. Even video tape surveillance is sometimes grainy. But this is pretty good," Otteson said. "Through this guy's bad habit, we could possibly solve several different burglaries."


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