Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

April 12, 2013

Confessions close book on theft ring

TAHLEQUAH — Confessions from two men and two women have helped solve a string of thefts that stretched across Cherokee County and spilled into other communities, Tahlequah detectives said Thursday.

The confessions were allegedly given by Richard Bradley Ryals, 24, who is mostly known by his middle name; his wife, 24-year-old Rachel Ryals, also known as Rachel Thomas; Johnny Berbee, 22; and a 22-year-old woman who was not arrested.

The Ryalses were scooped up Sunday after a high-speed pursuit with authorities, and Berbee was jailed this week after speaking with detectives.

Tahlequah Police Detective Jeff Haney said the Ryalses were viewed by authorities as a local “Bonnie and Clyde” duo. The two were considered suspects in a series of thefts, but slipped away several times in a span of weeks, all while allegedly continuing their grab-and-go crimes.

Authorities have connected the four to thefts dating back to at least Feb. 20, when a break-in was reported at the Cherokee County Community Building. Haney said police received a report on March 9 that a medicine cart was stolen from a Tahlequah nursing home. Then, on March 23, officers took a report after a woman’s purse was snatched from her in the Walmart parking lot. The victim told police the suspects were in a blue Chevrolet Impala, and a possible tag number was provided.

Exactly a week later, another woman told police she was pushing her Walmart shopping cart to her vehicle to unload groceries, when a man grabbed her purse, apologized, and fled in a blue car. Haney said police suspected the car was being driven by the Ryalses, and began to watch for it around the city.

Although they had possible tag numbers on the getaway car, police believed the suspects might have changed the tag – a hunch that was confirmed by one of the suspects this week.

Officers received information that the Ryalses were also involved with Berbee and the 22-year-old woman, but the blue Impala seemed to elude police around the county until Sunday, and Berbee could not be found.

After two pursuits with Cherokee County sheriff’s deputies, the Ryalses were finally captured Sunday afternoon when the Chevy Impala crashed into a tree and a barbed-wire fence. Brad and Rachel Ryals both fled from deputies, but were snared soon afterward.

Haney spoke with Rachel Ryals after her arrest, and she claimed her husband took the purse at Walmart on March 23. She also asserted that she was driving the getaway car when the second purse-snatching occurred, and added the vehicle belonged to her grandmother.

The suspects allegedly told authorities they would back into a parking space at Walmart and wait until they spotted a potential victim.

Berbee and the 22-year-old woman also gave full confessions, according to Haney, with exception to the first purse-snatching. Berbee reportedly told Haney and Detective Elden Graves that he helped Brad Ryals steal the medicine cart from a nursing home March 9.

He also said Brad bragged about committing the first purse theft.

Haney said Berbee confessed to taking the purse on March 30, while Brad Ryals was driving the getaway car. All four suspects were in the vehicle when the second purse theft occurred, detectives were told.

The four used the cash they took for personal gain, and each took drugs stolen from the nursing home. After the second purse-snatching, the four allegedly went on a spending spree and bought synthetic marijuana, and would get high on those products and the pills that had been stolen.

“By their own admission, they were committing these crimes, at least in part, to support their habits,” said Haney.

Connecting the dots

Detectives learned a family member of Rachel Ryals worked in the office that was burglarized at the Cherokee County Community Building, and that relative’s checkbook was stolen during the theft. Haney said Brad Ryals’ brother, 25-year-old Steven Lee Ryals, was found to be in possession of the stolen checkbook earlier this year when he was arrested on a separate case.

Brad and Rachel Ryals were suspected in a series of thefts last weekend in the Cookson area, including a fuel drive-off.

Brad Ryals allegedly stole a wallet from a man near Combs Bridge later that day, just before leading police in a chase that culminated in the arrest of the Ryalses.

Haney said the confessions and information garnered this week are connecting many of the dots Tahlequah officers, sheriff’s deputies and others had been following diligently in recent weeks.

“These suspects put the lives of 20 or 30 people on the line,” said Haney. “The people at the nursing home didn’t have any medications after the cart was stolen.”

Court documents filed this month in charges against Brad Ryals show he was evicted from a Tahlequah home recently, and was at the same time arrested for stealing materials from a construction site across the road.

Deputies have said the Ryalses later stayed at a vacant home in Cookson, where they allegedly stole a TV.

The Ryalses, Berbee, and the second female suspect also ended up in motel rooms in Tulsa, and would use stolen credit cards while in the city.

“The work the detectives did, along with the continuing efforts of our patrol officers and the Cherokee County sheriff’s deputies, helped solve these crimes against our elderly and unsuspecting victims,” said Tahlequah Assistant Chief of Police Steve Garner.

“We will continue to investigate this case, and we would also use it as a reminder to be cautious of your surroundings and to guard your belongings, even when you are out in the daylight in a public place.”

The arrests have closed the books on alleged crimes in Fort Gibson, Turley and Tulsa, Haney said.

Brad Ryals is being held on a combined bond of $60,000; Rachel Ryals is held on a $24,000 bond; and Berbee was given a $5,000 bond, Haney said.

The Department of Human Service is involved in the case because the suspects have children who will be affected by the arrests and anticipated charges.

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