Investigators were working late Tuesday to determine whether the two teenage cousins slain during a home burglary in Little Falls, Minn., on Thanksgiving Day committed a similar crime just hours before the fatal shootings.

Preliminary findings suggest that Nick Brady, 17, and Haile Kifer, 18, were involved in another break-in Wednesday night, 6 miles south of the home where Byron Smith claims he shot them in self-defense, said Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel. Smith, 64, a retired U.S. State Department worker, is charged with second-degree murder in the double shooting, which Wetzel has said was carried out after the teens were disabled by initial shots.

In the latest development, investigators are piecing together evidence recovered from a red Mitsubishi Eclipse that Brady had been driving, and which was discovered Friday parked a block away and around the corner from Smith's property, 3 miles north of Little Falls.

That same car was seen in a driveway last Wednesday evening 3 miles south of Little Falls, in the vicinity of a house belonging to Richard L. Johnson, a retired Little Falls High School teacher who had been in Spain until Sunday evening.

Wetzel confirmed that deputies who had been called to the Johnson neighborhood about the car identified it as one used by Brady, but not registered to him.

The sheriff also said that Brady had walked up to the car, was questioned by the deputies and released. The burglary at Johnson's home was at that time undiscovered, he said.

"There are some preliminary indications that the Johnson burglary may have been committed by the Brady boy and the Kifer girl, but it's too early now to say definitively, but tomorrow morning [Wednesday] we'll have some more information and determine whether they're connected," Wetzel said.

Johnson said the items he reported stolen included less than $5 worth of pennies kept in a box on his dresser, silver and copper coins from foreign countries, and an assortment of prescription medication, including drugs for diabetes and controlling cholesterol. Johnson, 68, said the thieves had broken a sliding glass door at his house.

Wetzel could not immediately confirm whether any of Johnson's property was found in the car that Brady and Kifer left parked near Smith's house before they were slain. He said investigators are tracing an assortment of items.

Smith's brother, Bruce Smith of California, whom Byron Smith called after the shootings, said his brother reported about $10,000 worth of items stolen in an Oct. 27 burglary, including guns, a camera and $3,000 to $4,000 in cash.

He said the Oct. 27 break-in was the latest in a string of six to eight before the shootings Thanksgiving Day.

The sheriff said he did not have the burglary report regarding the late October burglary that Byron Smith reported.

"I don't have the reports in front of me to indicate precisely what was found. I do know they found quite a bit of evidence in their vehicle that was parked near the Smith place," the sheriff said late Tuesday. "We're trying to investigate whether it might have come from the Johnson burglary."

Johnson, who taught 32 years at Little Falls High, said he didn't know Kifer or Brady, though he knew one of their siblings.

"The whole thing is very sad that they lost their lives," he said. "In the same instance, if they hadn't been breaking into houses, they'd be alive."

Joy Powell • 651-925-5038