Woman charged with using Postal Service keys to burglarize Wicker Park apartment building

CHICAGO — A woman charged earlier this month with burglarizing six Chicago apartment buildings by using U.S. Postal Service master keys to enter the premises has been charged with two more break-ins.

Kalea Blanke, 33, used postal keys to enter an apartment building in the 1600 block of West Division in Wicker Park on March 9 and again on June 11, according to her latest Chicago Police Department arrest report.

The report said she used a pry tool to open a storage room both times, stealing a bike and packages. A surveillance camera recorded the crimes, and a postal inspector recently identified her from the footage.

Chicago police arrested her Friday at her North Side home, where she is confined by electronic monitoring. A judge released her back onto the EM program.

A couple of weeks ago, prosecutors accused Blanke of burglarizing residential mailrooms across the North Side and downtown between May 2022 and June 2023. They also charged her with identity theft because Chicago cops said she was carrying credit cards in the names of six different people when they arrested her.

Kalea Blanke | Chicago Police Department

The officers also said a postal service master key, also known as an “arrow key,” was lying in plain sight in the garage where she was arrested. And when they searched her, police found five wrenches “filed into what appears to be various stages of arrow keys,” a CPD report said.

Mail theft surge

Mail theft by crews using stolen postal service master keys has become so widespread that the U.S. Postal Service has advised people not to put mail into its blue mailboxes after the last collection time.

Mail thieves might occasionally score a valuable package or an envelope containing a birthday gift card from someone’s grandma. But experts say the real value comes from identity theft and check fraud mills, which use information from stolen mail to steal people’s identities and checks.

Armed men have frequently robbed mail carriers of their “arrow keys” in Chicago. Some keys are stolen from the postal service in less violent ways. Some counterfeit keys have also popped up.

Highly organized identity theft and fraud organizations use stolen postal service master keys, called “arrow keys,” to steal large volumes of mail from public mailboxes and residential building mailrooms.

In May, a joint operation involving postal inspectors and Chicago police netted an arrest after investigators allegedly saw a man use an arrow key to steal mail from one of the postal service’s ubiquitous blue mailboxes in the West Loop.

And in March, another man was charged with possessing two forged postal service master keys, also known as “arrow keys,” during a traffic stop on the North Side. Prosecutors said the man also had a trove of financial information, including W2 forms and checks.

Prosecutors charged another man in February with burglarizing the mailroom of a single Lakeview apartment building 14 times in nine weeks. Patrick Slagel allegedly admitted to being a “jogger,” the slang term for people who collect bulk mail in theft scams, and to using postal service master keys that were either provided by relatives of USPS employees or were bought or stolen.

Alex Petik, 35, was charged this spring with burglarizing a mailroom in the 4800 block of North Bell four times. Two days after the last break-in, one of the residents learned that someone was trying to open multiple credit card accounts in their name.

A backpack he was carrying when police arrested him in April allegedly contained a Russian passport, two fake IDs with his photo but other people’s personal information, four credit cards with different names, five checks issued to various businesses and individuals, and 14.2 grams of suspected crystal methamphetamine.

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com