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Originally published Friday, February 23, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Police describe prolific car thief with a photographic memory

Hundreds of vehicles in Snohomish and King counties — including police cars and even a boat — may have been stolen by a single...

Times Snohomish County Bureau

Hundreds of vehicles in Snohomish and King counties — including police cars and even a boat — may have been stolen by a single man, 22-year-old Taylor Norton.

Snohomish County Sheriff's detective Jess Sanders called Norton the most prolific car thief he has ever seen.

Norton claims to have stolen 200 to 300 vehicles over the past year, authorities say. Sanders said Norton recounted how he stole police cars and once even took a boat, piloting it up Hood Canal to disassemble it for parts.

Though no one keeps track of records like this, Norton's claims exceed those of Liam Moynihan, 23, of Seattle, who claimed he had stolen 136 cars in King County in six months. Moynihan was sentenced in December to nine years in prison on 25 counts of first-degree theft.

Since his arrest at his Arlington home late last month, police say, Norton has led them to the locations of about 50 of his alleged thefts, including driveways and garages. He gave police the make, model and even license-plate number of each car.

"He has a great memory," said Sanders, who said he was amazed at Norton's nearly photographic recollection of the thefts as they drove through neighborhoods.

Sanders said Norton described exactly how he stole each vehicle and where he left it, leading to the recovery of almost all of the 50 cars. Investigators were able to confirm each incident described by Norton as an actual theft.

What is LoJack?


LoJack is a system that allows police to track and recover a stolen vehicle. A LoJack unit is hidden in a vehicle and registered in the LoJack database. When a stolen-vehicle report is filed, police computers send a silent radio signal to the vehicle, activating the LoJack transmitter. Police can then track the signal and locate the vehicle.

Source: LoJack.com

Some vehicles, Norton said, he stole to disassemble and sell the parts to pay for a meth habit. Others he would just drive around, Sanders said.

"We estimate he possibly would be stealing three to four cars a week," Sanders said. "We've been trying to locate him, and he eluded us every time."

Norton is being held in the Snohomish County Jail. He has been charged with possession of stolen property and is being investigated in connection with 31 counts of theft, two counts of burglary, one count of taking a motor vehicle without permission and one count of identity theft. He has been charged by the Snohomish County Sheriff and the police departments in Arlington and Marysville, and he may face more charges from other cities.

Norton's record includes convictions for forgery, attempting to elude a police vehicle, possession of stolen property and burglary.

Sanders believes Norton is being so forthright about his exploits now in order to avoid later facing sentences for crimes that emerged after he was jailed. Norton also told investigators he had a methamphetamine habit and wanted to come clean, they said.

Police had been searching for Norton for a while. Arlington police had video footage of Norton in a stolen car at a McDonald's, where he allegedly paid his tab with a stolen credit card. Sheriff's deputies even engaged in a car chase with him at one point, only to lose him.

Sheriff's deputies and detectives finally tracked Norton down after a Washington State Patrol aircraft equipped with a LoJack tracking system detected a stolen car in Arlington.

That led Snohomish County Sheriff's Deputy Karl Gilje to search the area in his patrol car, which also is equipped with a LoJack tracking device, one of 16 county patrol cars with the system.

A strong signal from the 18900 block of Jordan Road led Gilje to a blue mobile home tucked far back from the road in a wooded area. There, he discovered several partially disassembled vehicles, including two BMWs, a new Volkswagen beetle and a Chevrolet pickup. Gilje and detectives also found a burn pile on the property that contained personal documents and belongings from stolen vehicles.

After obtaining a search warrant, deputies found Norton hiding under the covers in his bedroom.

Detectives say he told them he looked for unlocked cars around 9 p.m., when people are home watching TV and won't be distracted by noises outside, and searched for keys to other cars once he gained entry. He said he usually dressed in bright colors so as not to look suspicious.

He said he preferred to steal more expensive cars, and cited a meth habit as his reason to steal. Investigators said they found a small quantity of meth in Norton's home.

Investigators say they aren't searching for other suspects who might be associated with Norton. They believe he acted mostly alone.

"That's a lot of cars for one person," Sanders said.

Naila Moreira: 425-745-7845 or nmoreira@seattletimes.com

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