by Barb who is writing this in Milwaukee
The last time I posted here, I wrote about my interactions with our small police force in Boothbay Harbor this summer. Unlike the murders I write about in the Maine Clambake Mysteries, these incidents were entirely harmless (for us), if annoying or hilarious (for the police).
But there was one time in Boothbay Harbor when we were involved in a real crime and mystery. In January of 2012, a neighbor noticed that the wood frame around the back door to our house was damaged. He called my sister-in-law because he knew she lived in town fulltime. She came over and investigated and sure enough we had been broken into.
Bill went up to our unheated house with the water turned off and inspected. It’s a seasonal house, there was nothing of value there. It appeared that the thieves had taken my mother-in-law’s costume jewelry–almost exclusively. While in Boothbay Harbor, Bill learned from the police that ours was one of three burglaries all in the same area, including another summer residence, and the home of fulltime people while they were away. The same kind of items were taken.
Bill asked why the thieves would have broken the door frame instead of shattering the glass in the door, which seemed like a much easier job. The police said the sound of cracking wood wouldn’t attract any attention from the neighbors, who would assume it was someone splitting logs or doing minor repairs, but the sound of shattering glass almost always brought someone around to investigate or a call to the police.
Little did we know at the time we were the front end of the wave. Over the next fifteen months there were twenty similar burglaries at residences in Boothbay, Boothbay Harbor, Edgecomb, Southport and Woolwich, along with three businesses. On October 25th, seven Boothbay residences were burglarized one day. The thief or thieves continued to take a lot of costume jewelry, but also valuable jewelry, coin collections, comic book collection, sterling silver, binoculars, and a host of other things. People were on edge. There was a rumor that at a neighbor’s house, fulltime people who had been away visiting one of their kids, the thieves had taken guns along with the usual haul.
The police worked the case hard. More than once over the summer of 2012, they came to our house with lists supplied by Portland pawn shops to see if we recognized anything. But we assumed because we’d lost costume jewelry, and because the descriptions from the pawn shops were general, “i.e. gold chain,” we never spotted anything.
Then, the case broke. The police linked three of the crimes to a local man using DNA and physical evidence. Then, the police chief got a call from the man’s sister-in-law, who said, “You better get up here.” She had discovered a cache of items in a storage area of the home used by her brother-in-law. The police transported forty boxes from the house. Here’s a quote from the Boothbay Register.
“As they sorted through, each find that corresponded to an unsolved burglary brought a cry of recognition and elation from the assembled officers. As individual burglaries were identified, police also began the satisfying task of notifying burglary victims of the recovery.”
However, as the police had dealt with securing the various warrants required to search the property and remove the items, the brother-in-law arrived, saw what was happening and walked away. He left without his wallet, keys, or car.
He was arrested in April, sixty miles south of St. Louis, Missouri. He had stolen a 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle from Woolwich, Maine. People in the town where he landed in Missouri had reported suspicious activity in the woods and police found the stolen car. They speculated that he wouldn’t have been noticed if he hadn’t called attention to himself with a vintage automobile. He was tried and sentenced to seven years, after he finishes serving various other sentences in other jurisdictions.
As a writer, I am fascinated by these crimes. Yes, the perpetrator was a career criminal, but he kept the items. He didn’t try to fence them, just hoarded them. The burglaries were frequent, almost frenzied. He probably spent the small amounts of cash he found, but hoarded everything else.
A small, local police force did a fantastic job on the case. They eventually held a series of open houses where they returned the stolen items to the victims.
Readers: Do you have a small town police story to share? It’s a tough job with a lot of tedium, and then crazy people call you when their printer starts up in the middle of the night (that would be us). Thank them for their service!