A Pooler man is being held in the Screven County Jail after a months-long investigation into church burglaries in several counties.
Morris Cyral Gunter, 51, might face further charges as the investigation continues, said Screven County sheriff's Sgt. Brett Dickerson.
Gunter's arrest came after a member of one of the churches targeted in burglaries in Screven, Jenkins, Bulloch and possibly Effingham counties was driving past Treasures from the Attic, an antique and thrift shop in Springfield owned by Gunter, and spotted chairs that were stolen from a church, Dickerson said.
The church member bought the chairs, then reported the incident to authorities, he said. Soon afterward, deputies arrested Gunter on burglary charges, Dickerson said.
Gunter, who owns the shop, was apparently burglarizing area churches at night, taking things like "cemetery gates, Bibles, an overhead projector, figurines, furniture, a stereo, toys from a children's nursery, hymnals and other things not yet reported," Dickerson said.
Gunter is the only suspect at this time, but the case is still under investigation. Dickerson said Gunter might face additional charges, including theft by taking and vandalism.
There may be other items stolen that have not yet been reported. Anyone who might have bought items from Gunter is urged to contact Dickerson if they believe the items the purchased could have been stolen. They need not fear arrest or punishment, as the buyers were not aware the items were stolen, Dickerson said.
Gunter also faces a probation violation related to a previous charge of failure to register as a convicted sex offender He served time for aggravated child molestation and a year for failure to register as a convicted sex offender, Dickerson said.
Effingham County investigators issued a warrant this week for Gunter's arrest on a new charge of failure to register as a convicted sex offender, this time for not registering his business, which is also required by law, Dickerson said. Gunter had not yet been arrested on that charge Thursday because he is in the Screven County Jail.
When released after serving the year for the failure to report charge, Gunter opened Treasures from the Attic in October and soon afterward, law enforcement agencies began investigating reports of church burglaries, Dickerson said.
He asked that anyone with information about the case, or who may have been a victim of the church burglaries or may have bought possibly stolen items, contact him at (912) 564-2013.
Investigators from Bulloch, Effingham and Jenkins counties continue to work with the Screven County Sheriff's Department regarding the case, he said.
On Wednesday, the Bulloch County Sheriff's Office posted an announcement on its Facebook page asking for information on any church burglaries that might have occurred there.
"Our investigators are working with both Screven and Effingham County Sheriff's Offices to locate the victims in a series of church burglaries," the Facebook post reads. "The suspect, who is in custody, was found in possession of church furniture, hymnals, items from cemeteries, and other small items which appear to be religious in nature. The suspect has confessed to multiple church burglaries, however there is a large amount of unclaimed property which suggests to investigators that there are unreported church burglaries still out there. The suspect is believed to have traveled extensively in Georgia and South Carolina. The burglaries are believed to have occurred over the past six months. We encourage all congregations, especially ones which do not meet weekly, to closely check their churches and report any thefts."
Bulloch County residents may contact Bulloch County sheriff's Investigator John Quattlebaum at (912) 764-1785.
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9454.