By Kevin Rector and Meredith Blake
From Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES—Last season, “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” delivered one of its most gripping storylines in years, thanks to the scandal engulfing cast member Erika Girardi and her estranged husband, Tom Girardi, a once-celebrated trial attorney accused of stealing millions from the clients he represented.
Season 12, premiering Wednesday on Bravo, kicks off with yet more legal drama, this time involving a terrifying break-in at the Encino home of cast member Dorit Kemsley. Much of the episode revolves around the Oct. 27 robbery—during which three intruders held Kemsley at gunpoint as her children slept nearby and stole an estimated $1 million worth of jewelry and handbags—and its emotional aftermath.
We learn that Kemsley, who had just returned from London, was jet-lagged and home without her husband, Paul “PK” Kemsley, who was still in the U.K., when the break-in occurred.
Black-and-white security camera footage shows a man in a hooded sweatshirt shattering the glass patio door with a sharp object, then entering Kemsley’s home, and two other hooded men prowling the property.
“When they came into my bedroom, when they had the gun to my head, I thought, ‘This is it, this is how I’m going to die,’” Kemsley recalls in a tearful confessional interview.
The day after the robbery, a distraught-looking Kemsley visits with her castmates and recounts her ordeal in further detail, explaining how she was preparing for bed when one of the intruders charged at her with a gun and said, “I’m going to [expletive] kill you.”
“I was hunched over, sobbing, going, ‘Please, I have little babies. Please, I’m a mother,’” she tells her castmates. “I thought, ‘This is it, I’m gonna die. He’s gonna pull the trigger.’ And then I envisioned them killing me and then going and killing my kids.”
In fear for her life, Kemsley directed the intruders to her valuables. They spent about 20 minutes stuffing “high-value jewelry and handbags” into a comforter, then left at her urging. (Security video shows one of the intruders dragging a large white bundle across the patio.) Kemsley says she convinced them to leave her phone near the property gate, which she retrieved after counting to 40.
“All I could think in my head was, ‘I have to do anything to save these kids,’” she says.
Kemsley is one of a number of wealthy residents targeted in so-called follow-home robberies in upscale enclaves of Los Angeles. Kevin Rector, who covers the Los Angeles Police Department for The L.A. Times and has covered these crimes, including the break-in at Kemsley’s home, explained what we know about these robberies in advance of Wednesday’s premiere.
Q: These robberies have gotten a lot of attention from the media, but has the overall incidence of robberies and burglaries in Los Angeles risen significantly? Why do you think these crimes in particular have gotten so much attention?
A: Robberies have increased in L.A., generally, and police say this particular trend of people being followed and robbed of expensive jewelry and other luxury goods has really taken off since last year.
Through April 30, robberies in L.A. were up 18.8 percent compared to the same point in 2021, and about 14 percent from 2020, according to Los Angeles police data. The follow-home robberies are definitely a factor in the increase.
I think the follow-home robberies have attracted a lot of attention in part because they show that rich people aren’t entirely immune to problems like crime, even if they are far more protected than more vulnerable populations, like people experiencing homelessness. In a city of such extreme wealth disparity, someone being robbed of a watch worth more than a house also provides people an opportunity to think about—and comment on—a whole host of factors at play.
Also, people care about even the most mundane aspects of celebrities’ and reality television stars’ lives. So when something as dramatic and dangerous as a robbery occurs to one of them, it’s definitely going to get attention.
Q: Just how widespread are these robberies? Is there evidence these crimes are connected to and being perpetrated by gangs or other criminal organizations?
A: The head of the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division told me that, as of last month, there had been 56 follow-home or “follow-off” robberies in 2022, on top of 165 last year.
He said at least 17 different gangs, most based out of South L.A. and operating independently, are believed by police to be involved, and that they are sending crews out specifically to find targets at luxury shops, restaurants, hotels and clubs, and then follow them home or to another location to rob them.
Capt. Jonathan Tippet, who is leading a special task force to halt the trend, said there does not appear to be much if any coordination between the gangs, but that they are individually taking very similar approaches to scoping out and robbing wealthy targets.
Q: Has there been any progress in the Kemsley case since the break-in occurred in October?
A: Tippet said that there were no updates in Kemsley’s case and police had made no arrests as of this week. The robbery remains under investigation.
Q: Based on Kemsley’s account, does this sound typical of the kind of robberies we’ve seen in other upscale areas? Is there anything about it that seems unique or unusual?
A: Every robbery is unique. Some of the robberies in this latest trend have occurred at people’s homes, like in Kemsley’s case. Others have taken place on the street.
Many have involved suspects armed with guns, as was the case in Kemsley’s robbery. Tippet said the assailants have been violent with many of the victims, striking them and pistol-whipping them at times with little notice, which was thankfully not the case for Kemsley.
It’s certainly unique to have a victim describing her encounter to a bunch of her friends on television.
Q: Kemsley says she feared for her life throughout her ordeal. How many of these break-ins have resulted in injury or death?
A: Of the cases Tippet outlined above, he said violence has been common, with many of the victims being assaulted.
Shots were fired in 23 cases, and two victims have been killed, he said.
Q: In November, the LAPD announced a task force set up to stop follow-home robberies. Has this been effective in reducing the number of these crimes?
A: That’s the task force Tippet is leading up. They have made a bunch of arrests. Police have also expressed frustration with some suspects they have arrested with firearms being released pending trial, only to commit further robberies, according to Tippet.
Tippet said the arrests seemed to drive down the number of robberies earlier this year, but that they had begun ticking back up.
Q: Kemsley stars in a popular reality show about wealthy women who often flaunt their luxurious lifestyle, and she is active on social media. In 2017, her co-star Kyle Richards was the victim of a similar crime. What do we know, if anything, about how the suspects identify and scout their targets? Are they watching TV and looking at social media to figure out who might have the most expensive handbags in their closet and who might be out of town?
A: We know from other high-profile crimes in L.A. and elsewhere that celebrities have been targeted by people who monitor their social media accounts. More celebrities are taking precautions by obscuring their locations or not posting themselves at a location until after they have left.
Tippet said that, based on the work of investigators to date, many of the robberies have occurred after crews have spotted victims at high-end establishments. Some crews appeared to have “scouts” inside of clubs and other venues who tell people on the outside when potential targets are leaving the establishments they are in.
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