Photos from the Vault

Posing with their loot may not have helped these ‘cat’ burglars

The Thundercats pose in a barn with cash from a stolen and broken safe, from left: Daniel Del Toro Jr., Frank Macaluso, standing, and David Lewis. All three were convicted. The ring operated in 1986-87.
The Thundercats pose in a barn with cash from a stolen and broken safe, from left: Daniel Del Toro Jr., Frank Macaluso, standing, and David Lewis. All three were convicted. The ring operated in 1986-87. San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's

The recent string of area burglaries reminds old-timers of the cartoon series “ThunderCats.” Stay with me.

ThunderCats” was a 30-minute series, animated in Japan and voice-acted in the United States. Apparently they said “ThunderCats, HO!” a lot. The series ran from 1985 to 1989.

The last inhabitants of the planet Thundera, the team of seven ThunderCats heroes fled their dying planet and eventually battled the evil Mumm-Ra, led by Lion-O, who was armed with the powerful Sword of Omens.

A ring of burglars operating in San Luis Obispo County in 1986-87 borrowed the ThunderCats moniker. A four-man, one-woman crew of burglars and armed robbers, the county ThunderCats signed their work at least once.

They were linked with 32 burglaries in the county. Though they netted an estimated $400,000 in cash and property, their career was three years shorter than their cartoon namesake.

An April 11, 1987, a Telegram-Tribune story said six county police agencies were involved once the ring was identified.

In retrospect, posing with wads of cash may have been more helpful to the District Attorney’s Office than it was for their courtroom defense.

Lance Daniel Del Toro was sentenced to prison for his role on Oct. 19, 1988. At his sentencing hearing, Del Toro was relaxed and frequently smiled. When his time to speak came, he addressed the court quickly and calmly.

“I am a man of honor. I was a Marine, a Cub Scout. I was in the church. I’m trying to straighten my life out. I’ve never gone to prison before, but I think I could learn my lesson in a shorter amount of time. I’m asking the court for leniency.”

He was sentenced to 11 years in state prison, one less than the maximum allowable under state law. He did assist detectives with clearing previously unsolved robberies and burglaries. With good behavior, time served could be as little as 5 1/2 years.

Del Toro had eluded capture for a year while the other ThunderCats were tried and sentenced. At one time, he was the county’s most wanted man, and police said they’d heard the fugitive had vowed he would not be taken alive.

Del Toro was captured at his mom’s trailer in Hesperia without resistance.

Reporter Dan Parker wrote about the last member of the ThunderCats to be captured in a Telegram-Tribune story published July 29, 1988:

Name is the same — only the crimes changed

If Danny Del Toro did everything he’s been accused of, he’s a bold, skillful and dangerous criminal.

About 20 people allegedly victimized by Del Toro testified in court Thursday. One after another, they took the stand and spoke of gunpoint robberies, burglaries of businesses and home break-ins. Here are a few examples:

▪  Violet Close of Nipomo said a small safe disappeared from her bedside while she slept Feb. 12, 1987.

“I couldn’t understand it,” the elderly woman said. “I thought I was a light sleeper.” Close said she knew Del Toro at the time.

▪  Jack Zeckner of Pismo Beach testified he was walking home Nov. 29, 1986, when he was robbed by two men wearing dark clothing and ski masks. The men tied Zeckner up, threw him down, took his wallet and briefcase. Total cash loss: $5,400.

▪  When Bob’s Big Boy employee Ed Archer arrived at work on the morning of Jan. 19, 1987, he discovered the Atascadero restaurant had been burglarized. The burglars had left their calling card. Their gang name, “Thundercats,” had been written on a refrigerator in pancake batter.

▪  Ronald Nigg of Arroyo Grande said he was asleep when a man broke into his house Feb. 13, 1987.

“Someone woke me up, brushing a gun across my face,” Nigg said. A man wearing a ski mask was standing over him. “He told me to be quiet or he’d hurt my family.”

Nigg thought it was a friend pulling a joke, so he tried to pull the burglar’s mask off. The burglar hit Nigg over the head with a pistol. Nigg chased the burglar out of the house, but lost him. Later, he found his three video-cassette recorders stacked outside the house.

▪  During the afternoon of March 14, 1987, someone quietly disarmed the burglar alarm system in Country Friends antique shop in Atascadero. That night, someone broke in and stole almost all of the jewelry in the building. Shop owner Elizabeth Testerman couldn’t bring herself to finish adding up the losses.

After reaching $100,000, “I stopped because I was getting too upset,” she said.

▪  Michelle Kanseki was working the front desk of the Sea View Motel in Pismo Beach when the business was robbed Feb. 1, 1987. Two men in dark clothing and ski masks walked in. One stuck a handgun in Kanseki’s face. The men took cash from the register and jerked a diamond ring from Kanseki’s hand.

Kanseki remained composed as she testified about her harrowing experience, but she broke into tears as she walked out of the courtroom.

David Middlecamp: 805-781-7942, @DavidMiddlecamp

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