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Michael Beasley hobbled up the stairs leading to his second-floor apartment near the southern tip of Miami Beach. On the way home from Haulover Park, the 60-year-old Jacksonville native had purchased a couple of burgers for himself and his beloved green Amazon parrot, Seaweed. Then something startled Beasley. His front door had been pried open.
Normally, Seaweed would squawk the greeting, "Hey, how ya doing?" But this time there was silence.
Beasley, who walks with a cane because of a back injury, limped into his living room. The bird and his six-foot domed cage were gone. So were the 32-inch plasma TV set and the DVD player. He continued into the bedroom and found the closet door open.
After peering inside, he turned pale. Burglars had stolen his and his wife's prized gun collection. Among the missing firearms: seven handguns (including a .357-caliber Ruger), a pistol-grip 12-gauge shotgun, two SKS 72 assault rifles, and three Heckler & Koch machine guns that can fire 1,200 to 1,300 rounds per minute. "These guns use bullets that chew through stucco and that can take people out in a drive-by," Beasley explains. "Whoever stole my guns has a tremendous amount of firepower. They hit the jackpot."
The bold daytime heist provides a glimpse into the alarming number of high-powered rifles and machine guns that are stolen every year. Many end up in the hands of criminals. Though the Miami-Dade Police Department doesn't track stolen weapons each year, indications are the numbers are high. Consider the following:
• Since June 2007, 70 AK-47s and other similar assault rifles have been recovered through the county's gun bounty program, which pays $1,000 to those who turn in people with illegal weapons.
What are they used for? Fifty-four-year-old Miami Gardens resident Carol Taylor was murdered with a high-caliber rifle this past December 4. "Criminals can get an AK-47 on the street for $200," says Miami Gardens Police Capt. Rafael Suarez, "or just steal one."
Special Agent Carlos Baixauli — a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — says the AK-47 has replaced the TEC-9 and MAC-11 machine guns of the '80s and '90s. "Nowadays it's the guy who can lay down the most lead from long range who wins," Baixauli says. "The bigger the gun, the more powerful they feel."
According to the three law enforcement officials, the machine guns and assault rifles stolen from Beasley are just as powerful as the AK-47.
So Beasley's case has important implications. A white-haired former U.S. Marine, he and his wife of 28 years, Beverly, have collected guns as a hobby since 1986, when they bought a 9mm Berreta and a Mossberg pistol-grip 12-gauge shotgun for $200.
Over the years, they have given each other firearms as presents, he says. In 1987, they purchased two of the Heckler machine guns and the .357 Ruger. In 1995, they got two Glocks, another Berreta, and the third Heckler machine gun. Between 2004 and 2005, the Beasleys bought two more handguns and the SKS rifles.
Like people who collect coins and stamps, the couple amassed the arsenal as a hobby. They have concealed weapons permits and have been members of the National Rifle Association. Both grew up around guns. Beasley's father and uncle served in the U.S. Marine Corps. Beverly says she went to her first gun range in her early teens.
Beasley showed a New Times reporter documents that the couple legally owned the firearms. "We also saw the guns as an investment," he says. "We knew they would retain or go up in value over time."
About a year and a half ago, the Beasleys relocated to Miami Beach from Dallas, where they would occasionally use some of the guns at shooting ranges. He had retired from a job as a mortgage broker. She works for an airline and wanted to be closer to her ailing mom in Atlanta. "I never imagined I would encounter a criminal subculture on South Beach," Michael Beasley says.
They looked for storage facilities around Miami-Dade to keep the guns under lock and key, but they did not think that any of the places they visited provided ample security. They believed they could safely guard the guns under their own roof.
Beasley concedes the guns, which he estimates are worth $85,000, weren't locked up. They were bundled in blankets on the floor of the bedroom closet.
So who did it? Shortly after moving into their one-bedroom, wood-floored South Beach apartment, the Beasleys befriended a local named Benny Bradshaw, a 38-year-old, heavyset self-described beach bum. "I made the mistake of telling him about my guns," Michael Beasley says. "He is the only person I told. And now he's nowhere to be found."
Bradshaw did not reply to five messages left on his cell phone's voicemail. And he no longer resides in an apartment on 24th Street at Collins Avenue that was his last known address.
The Miami Beach Police report about the burglary lists Bradshaw as a suspect, but it seems there was more than one person involved. The Beasleys' neighbor Dennis Larramendi told cops that "shortly after 12 p.m., he heard people going up and down the staircase and heard the bird," according to the police report.
A couple of construction workers who were digging up the alley behind the Beasleys' apartment building, near Third Street and Jefferson Avenue, informed Beach detectives that they saw three dark-skinned men loading up a late-model green Ford F-150 pickup truck with the couple's belongings.
Michael Beasley is convinced the thieves were tracking his whereabouts when they hit his apartment. "They took their sweet time," he says. "One of them even poured themselves a glass of cold water from a pitcher that was in our refrigerator."
Since the burglary, Beasley has been conducting his own investigation. He has visited several Miami Beach bars looking for Bradshaw or any of his friends. He and his wife have gone to the Opa-locka Hialeah Flea Market and pawnshops in Liberty City to pass out flyers.
"We came here to be closer to the beach," Beasley says. "We were going to sell our guns and buy a sailboat. We're still in shock and denial about what happened to us."