By Carla Zanoni
MANHATTAN -- The Vaseline Burglar just wasn't slippery enough.
A Bronx ex-con was nabbed for going on a prolific burglary spree in upper Manhattan that had residents on edge, covering his tracks by smearing petroleum jelly on the peepholes in his victims' buildings to prevent witnesses from identifying him, authorities said.
Luis Gonzalez, 40, was arrested for 14 apartment burglaries in Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood over a seven-month period starting last year and police sources believe he is responsible for up to 16 similar break-ins during the same period, including some in The Bronx.
Sources said that they believe the suspect -- who carried a cane and generally broke through the front door of his victims' apartments -- is responsible for the additional burglaries because they found petroleum jelly at those scenes.
Gonzalez, 40, who was arrested at his home in Tremont in the Bronx and charged with burglary, grand larceny and petit larceny, has a history of burglary convictions and was on parole until 2014 for a 2000 break-in Harlem, a police source said.
Uptown residents said they were relieved to hear someone had been arrested for the strange string of burglaries, in which the suspect allegedly made off with jewelry, electronics and other valuables.
"I've been worried since the news broke [of the break-ins]," said Inwood resident Marice Dubon, 33, who lives in an apartment building on Thayer Street that Gonzalez allegedly burglarized.
"Whenever I get home I check the doors near my apartment and make sure it's safe to go in. The last thing I wanted to do was meet this guy face-to-face."
The crime spree, which allegedly involved Gonzalez breaking in to steal electronics, jewelry or cash, began in September 2011 at a home on Riverside Drive in Harlem.
On March 8, Gonzalez allegedly broke into four four homes in Washington Heights beginning at 7 a.m., making off with computers, bicentennial coins and even a carton of Marlboro cigarettes.
His last attempt, at 2 p.m. the same day, was unsuccessful when he tried to force a door open but couldn't get into an apartment on West 187th Street, police said.
According to police, in addition to smearing Vaseline on peepholes, Gonzalez always carried a cane and wore a hat to block his face.
Last month, Washington Heights residents watched as an army of cops descended on a home on West 187th Street to apprehend what turned out to be another suspect in a burglary on March 22.
The suspect in that case was ruled out as the Vaseline bandit as it did not match his M.O., police said.
For many uptown residents, the peculiar case had become an uncomfortable attraction.
Chris Rizzo, a Washington Heights resident who writes the neighborhood blog Hudson Heights Gazzette, said his neighbor's attention was held rapt for any news about the burglar's capture.
"It was mix of horror at the frequency of his crimes and fascination with his brazenness," Rizzo wrote in an email. "I double-checked my dead bolt every time I left my apartment. I suspect I will for months to come.