One of our most persistent burglars has just been locked up again. Today, senior crime and justice journalist Anna Leask reveals why Lexington Lewis keeps breaking into people's homes while they are sleeping - and why jail is anything but a deterrent for the thief who has more than 300 convictions under his belt.
He comes in the night - when you're asleep, when you're in bed, when you should be the most safe and secure.
He creeps into your space from the dark, quietly but intently.
He is stealthy, silent, like a cat prowling for prey.
And you won't know he's been there until much later.
He is Lexington John Lewis, one of New Zealand's most persistent and "dangerous" burglars.
Last month Lewis, who has spent just a handful of Christmases out of prison since he was 17, was jailed again for a spate of burglaries.
According to the sentencing judge – whose opinion of Lewis mirrored that of judges across more than 30 years of offending – he is a incorrigible, remorseless, undeterred.
He may never stop, and gives zero thought to the people he leaves in the wake of his repeated crime sprees.
Lewis' most recent arrest came after he was mentioned in the Herald last August.
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Back then, he was just a suspect in a series of similar burglaries in the North Shore, Rodney and Northland areas.
He was captured on CCTV at ATMs using bank cards stolen from homes shortly before.
Police thought the man in the images and the man on the footage was one and the same - but they had no idea who they were dealing with.
They appealed to the public: "Do you know this man? Can you help us find a potentially prolific burglar?"
Hours after the Herald story, one of their own called from the lower North Island.
I think your burglar, he said, is Lex Lewis. I know him well, he's prolific and everything about your suspect fits his modus operandi.
Lewis was located, arrested, charged and remanded in custody.
That's where he stayed until April 17 when he was jailed. Again.
Since Lewis' arrest, the Herald has been looking into his life in a bid to work out how he became one of New Zealand's worst burglars, why he keeps offending, the breadth of harm he has caused in his career of crime and if he can ever be stopped.
To date, Lewis has more than 300 convictions, most for dishonesty offending – burglaries, thefts from and of cars, using stolen bank cards to obtain a pecuniary advantage.
His first prison lag was at 17, and since then he has been sent back behind the perimeter fence shortly after each release.
WHEN DID IT ALL BEGIN?
Lewis' troubles seemed to begin not long after his birth in 1969.
Documents obtained from courts around New Zealand reveal he had a "traumatic upbringing".
By the age of 5 he was "passed around" foster families and boys homes, repeatedly abused along the way. He later sued the Government for the abuse and receive a compensatory payout.
As a teenager, Lewis was placed with a foster father who did not abuse him and things were looking up - until the relationship met an "untimely end".
Lewis arrived home one day to find the dead body of his foster father, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
He left school at 15, struggling with post traumatic stress disorder, and began offending soon after.
Between the ages of 17 and 40 - when he was sentenced by Judge Bruce Davidson - he spent just three Christmases out of prison.
"I normally only last two months," he told the report writer of his prison releases.
His criminal history backs that up, showing incarcerations coming soon after each time his liberty was restored.
As a result of his time behind bars, Lewis became institutionalised.
When out of prison he relied on the unemployment benefit, but was supplementing the payments by regular criminal offending.
By 2009, he had more than 300 convictions - mostly for burglary, theft and other dishonesty crimes.
But peppered amongst the stealing were offences of violence - assault with intent to injure, assaults police, assault with a blunt instrument - and unlawful possession of weapons including firearms and knives.
He escaped and failed to stop for police, routinely drove while disqualified and even managed a prison break in October 1993 while on remand at Hawke's Bay Regional Prison facing a raft of burglary charges.
In 1999, Lewis also made headlines in the Herald when he admitted a raft of burglaries in the Cambridge and Whitianga areas.
He pleaded guilty to burgling 39 homes and breaking into 14 cars.
Police believed at the time he was responsible for burgling up to 100 homes while occupants slept.
"Mr Lewis admitted that his past burglary convictions were similar in nature, in that he would enter the property at night whilst people were home and take their bank cards," the pre-sentence report said.
He admitted he was institutionalised and preferred prison to the free world, stating there were people behind bars who "cared" for him.
"I have brothers in here, staff care about me," he told the report writer.
WHY DID HE KEEP REOFFENDING?
Outside prison, Lewis was lonely - and that, he said, was a major factor that led to reoffending.
Before the raft of burglaries in 2009, Lewis also had significant issues with a woman.
He had been married to a woman, but upon one release from jail found she had been cheating on him.
During a later lag, he developed a relationship with a woman he met through a faith-based unit at Rimutaka Prison.
In early 2009, she told Lewis she was pregnant, that he was the father.
However, an operation when he was 2 weeks old had left him unable to conceive children.
"The baby was subsequently miscarried and the timing of this event led to Mr Lewis' return to offending in April 2009."
At the time, Lewis was on parole and an application was made to recall him to prison to finish his sentence.
Lewis initially indicated to his lawyer and support people that he wanted to go back to prison as he knew it was "safe for him".
However, he was "convinced to the contrary" that he should oppose the recall application - which was also rejected by the Parole Board.
Lewis was "released to revert to heavy dishonesty offending", the pre-sentence report confirmed.
He told police he remembered little of the burglaries and thefts, that he was in an "autopilot-type state".
He described himself as a "kleptomaniac" and told the report writer that his actions "were a means to an end" and he "wanted to go back to jail".
The report said causal factors in Lewis' recidivism included an "offending-supportive attitude emanating from his institutionalisations allowing him to go on an offending rampage in an attempt to go back to jail rather than tell those mandated to assist him of this desire".
"Given Mr Lewis' history and his level of institutionalisations, he is assessed at being a very high risk of reoffending," the report writer said.
"He is described as a cat-burglar … Mr Lewis is a prolific dishonesty offender and is considered to be at a very high risk of reoffending shortly after release.
"He conveyed, 'I don't care how long [the jail term is] I know I deserve to be in here'.
"[Lewis] stated that he 'can't cope out there' in the community and 'I'm a better person in prison'."
When Lewis was arrested in 2009, police found a number of stolen cards and licences from recent burglaries in his car.
Were they surprised? Likely not.
The then-40-year-old was widely known to target residential areas a distance away from police stations - arguably to allow him escape time if he was spotted or confronted.
He entered the houses in darkness, through insecure doors or windows, or using a jemmy bar to force his way in.
There is a significant commonality in what he stole - wallets, handbags, cards, coins, cash, licences.
Bags, purses and wallets were usually dumped after the burglaries but the other items were held and used where possible - for example, bank cards were used at nearby ATM machines and, in some cases, amounts of cash withdrawn.
According to the summary of facts from the 2009 case, Lewis intimated he was responsible for "a large number" of night and early morning burglaries in the Pukerua Bay, Paekakariki, Waikanae and Wairarapa areas.
In November 2009, Judge Davidson sentenced him, saying residents were home in more than half the burglaries.
"The proximity between you as the burglar and the sleeping occupant is enough to send a shiver down my spine.
"On some occasions you committed up to six burglaries in one night on the same street or area.
"All of your victims are upset, inconvenienced and feel that their security has been violated."
Judge Davidson read from one of the victim impact statements provided to the court, saying it was "hard not to be engulfed by the overwhelming volume" of effects to the victims.
He described Lewis' list of previous convictions as "among the worst I have seen".
"Your offending was planned. It was premeditated. You were accomplished at what you did," he said.
"The sheer extent, breadth and daring nature of your offending is evident … the Crown submit that you are a professional burglar with entrenched offending patterns.
"Over three months you have broken into over 60 homes … your offending was calculated, determined and premeditated - there can be no doubt that society must be protected from you.
BACK AT IT AGAIN
Before he was jailed in 2009, Lewis promised the pre-sentence report writer that he would "try again" when he was next released - claiming that with "suitable treatment and reintegrative support" he could "do things differently".
But his claims were empty and, just six months after he was released from prison, Lewis was at it again.
Lewis was released from prison on parole in September 2017 and was subject to conditions for six months from that date.
But as soon as the conditions expired the wheels came off in spectacular fashion.
In July 2018, Lewis was done – again – for drink driving, and sentenced in the Hastings District Court to a period of supervision.
Little did the judge know then that Lewis had been out committing a raft of night-time burglaries across the upper North Island.
Between April and August, he hit a swathe of houses and police were able to link him without doubt to seven.
As usual, Lewis pleaded guilty to his offending and expressed a desire to get back behind the razor wire.
He seemed almost desperate to get back to the confines of a cell.
This time, the decision on how to sentence the seemingly relentless burglar fell to Judge Kevin Glubb.
He denied the Herald access to pre-sentence and psych reports prepared for the court, but indicated the latter traversed a number of issues – both things outlined by Judge Davidson almost a decade ago, and other factors.
"I can see how you have gotten to this position that you have spent a large portion of your life in custody," Judge Glubb said.
Lewis has "no employment history" and had been "troubled by alcohol and substance abuse" including a self-admitted cannabis addiction.
He told the court he'd also struggled with mental health issues including suicidal thoughts, self harm, anxiety and depression.
The pre-sentence report deemed Lewis posed a high risk of further imprisonment and equally, a high risk of potential further harm.
In contrast, in prison Lewis appears to be a model inmate who is well regarded by other offenders and staff and who holds a position of responsibility as a cleaner.
"You are capable of performing well in a structured environment," Judge Glubb said.
"I have read your letter of remorse and you say that you're proud that you didn't relapse or offend during the parole period.
"It was only when the restrictions of that came off you felt unsupported and reoffended in the same way you have in the past.
"You are a recidivist burglar, beyond doubt – and also a spree burglar.
"You are a man who is very clearly a recidivist and has committed these offences with regular abandon.
"You are an incorrigible burglar, undeterred by prison."
For that reason, Judge Glubb said he had to sentence Lewis from the basis of protecting the public rather than denouncing and deterring his deviant and criminal behaviour and holding him to account.
"The reality is you haven't been deterred by now, so the reality is public protection," he said from the bench.
"I have to ensure that the public who are peacefully sleeping in their beds are free from this harm of invasion in their homes, privacy and sanctuary."
Judge Glubb read through the most salient points of the victim impact statements prepared for the court for sentencing.
As a result of the first burglary, the victims felt insecure in their home and had started taking "extra measures" to make sure their property was secure, repeatedly checking doors and windows were locked at night and whenever they left.
The second victim said she was "very upset" after the burglary and her young son was scared "for a long time" that Lewis was going to come back and break in again at night and "take something or hurt us".
The victim from Piha said Lewis had stolen irreplaceable and sentimental personal items.
He became "a bit depressed" thinking he would never see his things again.
The Forest Glen victim said the "most disturbing" part of the crime was that Lewis had invaded his home as he slept.
"It makes me wonder what would have happened if one of us had heard him and gotten up," he said.
He said he was now "very cautious" about his security.
"I find it hard to sleep and I jump up at the slightest noise," he said.
"My wife is too scared to get up in the night in case someone is outside trying to get in; my daughter no longer feels safe in our home any more."
The victims from the Long St burglary are a couple in their 80s.
They are so affected by Lewis' offending they are considering giving up their independence and moving somewhere more secure and monitored.
Judge Glubb said they were the "most vulnerable" of all the victims and had lost not only thousands of dollars, but also precious and irreplaceable items of jewellery and personal items they had collected throughout their lives.
"We are seriously considering giving up our beloved garden and moving to premises with high security," they said.
"That's just a snapshot really of the impact your wanton offending has caused a large number of householders going about their lawful business and sleeping in their own homes," Judge Glubb told Lewis.
"You have destroyed their privacy, security and the sanctuary of their homes."
Judge Glubb told Lewis, who sat in the dock looking impassive in his black hoodie, his head shaved close to the scalp, that his previous conviction history was "appalling".
He said Lewis had an antisocial attitude - particularly into the level of remorse and empathy towards victims.
"You have indicated you find prison life easier and safer than living in the community because you consider yourself to have been institutionalised," he said.
"I am unsure precisely what other interventions can be put in place for you."
He sentenced Lewis to 56 months in prison – four-and-a-half years – and ordered him to serve just under two-thirds of that time before he was eligible for parole again.
He urged Lewis to turn his life around once and for all, to take rehabilitation opportunities that came his way in jail, and to keep himself out of the courtroom dock in future.
Lewis, surprisingly, asked to speak at the end of sentencing.
Judge Glubb had no choice but to listen as the professional burglar started rambling.
"I'd like to thank the police," he said.
He acknowledged the work he had created for officer and the probation officer and experts who had to prepare his pre-sentence reports.
He did not say a word about his victims.
"Our children are scared"
One family were hit twice by Lewis in 2009 and say his offending scared their children and led them to distrust people in their community.
Lewis broke into two of their vehicles, parked outside their home, over a three-week period.
The first time he broke into a truck and stole tools, fishing gear and in total "a significant amount" of property.
The vehicle had been locked.
"The second time was about three weeks later," said the victim, who did not want to be named.
"He broke into my car and took quite a bit of sports gear of the kids.
"It probably affected the kids more than us, they both slept in separate bedrooms but after that - because of all the talk at school and in the community [about the spate of burglaries and break-ins] - they started to sleep together in the same room every night.
"It made us become a bit more 'on alert' - hearing noises and checking them out."
The victim was not surprised to hear Lewis was back before the courts.
"Do you actually change a person like that?" she asked.
She said the break-ins were an inconvenience because she had to make multiple insurance claims.
"And when it happened the second time I thought 'is this for real?'
"You think, 'was it just us being useless?'
"But no, the cars were locked both times."
She said until Lewis was caught, her family struggled to trust people in the community.
"There was a little bit of distrust," she explained.
"You wonder 'is it you?' as you're going around."
"I fear what he will do if confronted"
A 66-year-old victim told the courts during sentencing he felt "extremely nervous" sleeping in his home after being targeted by Lewis.
"I have worked out a plan for jumping out the window if somebody breaks in," he said.
"At 66 years and with no experience of defending myself against an intruder, armed at least with a length of metal, I figure that flight is better than fight.
"I resent in the extreme that somebody is so casually indifferent to others that he makes his life's work breaking and entering and stealing while people are at their most vulnerable.
"We are all now saddled for life with a fear of a return visit by this man who has no hesitation about using violent means to enter sleeping houses.
"I fear what he will do if confronted by an occupier. His behaviour suggests his contempt for others and I am sure he will lash out to avoid apprehension."
The victim said Lewis was a " permanent danger" to the community.
"My home is my castle but it has been breached," he said.
"I am no longer secure where I am entitled to be."
FIVE MONTHS, SEVEN VICTIMS
From April to August 2018, there was a spike in burglaries in the Rodney and North Shore areas.
Police believed one person was behind the break-ins – usually at night when the occupants were home sleeping.
Lexington John Lewis was eventually arrested and charged.
His arrest followed a story in the Herald that revealed a face of the suspect using cards stolen from homes at money machines across the northwest Auckland region.
Lewis is now behind bars again following his latest spree.
HOW DO YOU STOP SOMEONE LIKE LEWIS?
It's likely that in future Lewis will create more victims – possibly many more in the second half of his life.
Criminologist Greg Newbold, who spent time in prison himself and has ongoing contact with offenders past and present as part of his expert work, said the chances of Lewis or offenders like him changing their ways were slim – if that.
"He's probably a person who's so institutionalised that prison is a sanctuary for him – it holds no fear for him," the professor explained.
"If he's done that much time in there, it's likely that he feels more comfortable and secure in prison than out of it.
"Prison provides a lot of things: Three meals a day, a warm bed, your laundry done once a week, no bills.
"Basically, it's all laid on in there and out here you have to fight to survive – particularly for someone like him - life out here wouldn't be that flash."
Newbold said recidivist thieves like Lewis committed burglaries for three main reasons.
"Firstly, he doesn't mind going back to prison," he said.
"Secondly, he finds it quite exciting.
"And thirdly, the proceeds provide him with income he wouldn't otherwise have. It gives him a lifestyle that he enjoys, provides him with some security."
After hearing of Lewis' confession that he prefers prison to freedom, and that he offends mainly to get back inside where he feels more at home, Newbold said he was "an unusual bloke".
"Most people, in spite of the fact they are institutionalised, don't actually like being in prison," he said.
"For someone like him though, life on the outside can be pretty unpleasant.
"In prison he'll have friends, everyone will know him and he'll have a close-knit primary group.
"He'll know the prison officers and he probably gets on really well with them, he's probably got a good job in there and when he goes back it will be like going back to old mates.
"He's probably pretty well behaved in prison."
Newbold thought freedom for Lewis, who has been in prison for most of his life, was a foreign concept – not one he knew how to handle, operate or enjoy.
He said being released and being in control of your own liberty could be extremely hard for some inmates who had served lengthy or repeated lags.
"Suddenly they are out and they find there's a lot of things they don't understand: The tax system, how to get a job, they've never had to cook for themselves, they don't know how to budget and pay bills or rent, how to have an interview with a landlord or for a job," he said.
"There are so many things that they are not used to, whereas in prison it's all done for them."
So will Lewis ever stop – or be stopped?
Newbold said that was the million-dollar question.
"Everyone is different," he said.
"He could very well continue the way he's been going.
"I was in jail with a burglar who kept coming back and that's what he did for his whole life.
"That's what he knew and that's what he was familiar with, he was happy chugging along like that.
"That could be the case with Lewis.
"Or, he might feel like he's too old for it or he's had enough."
Newbold said the simple way for authorities to stop criminals like Lewis from reoffending and creating victims in the community was to keep sending them back inside.
"Keep sentencing them back to jail, there is nothing else you can do really," he lamented.
"If he likes it, if he's comfortable there, there is nothing you can do to stop him – it's a bugger."