Monday, Edgartown police arrested Christine Houston, 58, of Edgartown. Police say they have evidence that Ms. Houston has stolen prescription medications, jewelry, and other items worth an estimated $70,000, in a series of housebreaks beginning in 2009.
Ms. Houston was arraigned in Edgartown District Court Tuesday, on eight charges of breaking and entering in to six Edgartown homes, two of the houses twice each. She was also arraigned on three charges of larceny.
Police say they intend to file criminal complaints Friday charging Ms. Houston with breaking into three other Edgartown houses. If they do, it would make a total of nine houses and eleven break-ins.
The court entered not guilty pleas for Ms. Houston and ordered her held on $10,000 bail. She remained in jail on Tuesday afternoon.
Ms. Houston worked as a cook and custodian at the Anchors, Edgartown’s Council on Aging facility, until 2008. Council on Aging director Laurie Schreiber would not comment when contacted by the Times.
A series of break-ins in the downtown area over the past eight months frustrated police. There were four incidents this past spring.
“Prescription pills and jewelry were stolen from four different residences,” Detective Sgt. Chris Dolby said. “Over the course of the summer it slowed down, and they started up again in September. We had four more residences broken into.”
Sgt. Dolby said that on October 16, police officers responded to a house on Summer Street, after the owner walked into her house and encountered a woman there. On September 20, a caretaker encountered a woman inside another Summer Street house. The two witnesses gave very similar descriptions of the intruder, a slight, older woman with short grey hair. From the descriptions, police began to focus on a woman who was seen walking in the area over the course of the past year. They put together a photo array, but neither witness could identify the person they had encountered.
On Monday night, Sgt. Dolby went to the Norton Street house where Ms. Houston lives.
“I went to her home, asked if I could speak with her,” Sgt. Dolby said. “I mentioned that she matched the description. At that point, she admitted she was the one, she had trespassed.”
Sgt. Dolby said Ms. Houston agreed voluntarily to come to the police station for questioning. During an interview, he said, she admitted to entering six houses, and police arrested her. In most cases she entered the houses through unlocked or open doors, according to police.
On Monday evening, Sgt. Dolby executed a search warrant at Ms. Houston’s house and recovered jewelry and other items. Police traced some of the jewelry to three other housebreaks. They are still investigating and may seek more charges.
“We’re happy to have solved nine housebreaks,” Sgt. Dolby said. “A lot of sentimental jewelry has been recovered.” He said several valuable items have yet to be located, and he suspects those items were sold in Boston. “We’re looking at a conservative estimate of over $70,000 of merchandise that has been stolen.”
A sad story
Police and a friend of Ms. Houston describe her as a woman addicted to prescription medications.
Jane Meinhart of Edgartown, who got to know Ms. Houston when she worked at the Anchors, said she came to Martha’s Vineyard after experiencing a family tragedy. She said Ms. Houston was recovering from substance abuse when she arrived, but seemed to be doing well, making friends and adapting to the Island.
“She had a place that treated her well,” Ms. Meinhart said. “She had value to the community.”
But she said Ms. Houston seemed to spiral downward quickly after her employment ended. “I feel so bad for her. She was well liked by a great many of the people that went down there. She was a fantastic cook. She was a feisty lady. I could cry for her.”
Ms. Meinhart said she tried to reach out to Ms. Houston as recently as a few months ago, during a brief encounter in Edgartown. “I would see her and it would be like old home week, and then I wouldn’t see her again. It is a sad story. I don’t know who could have saved her. There were too many demons.”