Thieves hit beachgoers' autos
Oak Bluffs and Edgartown are targets
Over the last three weeks, while beachgoers lolled in the sun, thieves busily stole valuables from some of their cars. A rash of thefts from cars, both locked and unlocked, is adding up to a troublesome pattern in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown.
Police in the two towns report that six car thefts have been reported, three in the South Beach area in Edgartown from June 15 through July 1, and three at Eastville Beach in Oak Bluffs on June 27. In two of the incidents, the thief or thieves broke into a locked car by smashing a window with a rock, on one occasion in broad daylight.
On Monday, a seventh theft occurred in a car parked in Edgartown on Winter Street. Although the incident did not occur in a beach location, it fits the pattern in terms of technique, smashing a window to break into a locked car, according to police.
"This is three weeks in a row for us," said Edgartown Police Lt. Tony Bettencourt. "There's no question we're seeing a pattern. We're aware of it and had extra patrols at South Beach over the weekend."
On June 15, a couple from Syracuse, New York, called the Edgartown Police at 11:46 pm to report that after fishing at South Beach, they returned to their car parked on Katama Road, where they found the rear window shattered and the woman's purse missing.
Ted Stanley holds the rock that a thief used to smash a window and steal his wife Karin's purse from her locked car, pictured in the background, at Eastville Beach last week. Photo by Ted Stanley
Ten days later, on June 25, a woman reported her cell phone and iPod were stolen from her unlocked car at the dirt parking lot at Herring Creek Road and Atlantic Drive, sometime between 3 and 5 pm. Last Sunday, another victim reported someone had broken into his car, which he thought he had locked, also parked at the same dirt lot, and stole his iPod and wallet containing $80 and credit cards. None of his windows were smashed, however.
On Monday at 8 pm, a woman from Ocala, Fla., approached an Edgartown patrol officer to report vandalism and the theft of a Garmin global positioning system from her car. The police officer reported that the metal window frame on the driver's side window appeared to have been pried from the window, causing it to shatter. Lt. Bettencourt said it was surprising that someone would risk committing such a crime during daylight hours in an area where there are many passersby.
The three thefts that occurred at Eastville Beach in Oak Bluffs took place sometime in the afternoon of June 27 and were reported by the victims when they returned to their cars between 4:52 to 5:32 pm, according to Oak Bluffs Police Lt. Timothy Williamson of the Oak Bluffs police department.
Karin Stanley of West Tisbury shared the details of her story with The Times in hopes, she said, of making the public more aware and vigilant. At 4 pm last Wednesday, Ms. Stanley headed to Eastville Beach after finishing work at Polly Hill Arboretum. She parked her Honda CRV in an area near the drawbridge and left her purse on the passenger side front seat. Although later she could not recall with certainty whether she covered her purse with something to hide it, she definitely remembered locking the car.
Relaxing on the beach, Ms. Stanley noticed a teenage boy walking along the upper beach area away from the shore, picking up rocks while he glanced over at the parked cars. About an hour later, at around 5:15 pm she returned to her car to find the front passenger side window shattered, glass everywhere, with a fist-sized rock lying between the two front seats and her purse missing.
"I had credit cards, a checkbook, cell phone, a commuter ferry ticket book, plus a lot of cash because I had just been to the bank," Ms. Stanley said. "You don't realize what you carry around in your wallet or pocketbook until it's gone, and then you realize, 'it's my life.'"
She found a man on the beach who was nice enough to call the police for her, since her cell phone was gone, and asked if he had noticed anyone around her car.
To Ms. Stanley's surprise, he told her he had just finished reporting a theft from his own car about a half hour earlier. His mother's wallet had been stolen from her purse, left in their unlocked car with its windows partially open.
Lt. Williamson said that a third incident also took place at Eastville Beach on the same day, with another purse stolen from a car that was vandalized. "Although that area is buffeted by the dunes, it's surprising with all the traffic - pedestrians, vehicles, mopeds and bikes - that nobody noticed anything," he said on Monday this week, adding that an Oak Bluffs detective is investigating the incidents.
"You don't think you're going to go to the beach on Martha's Vineyard and have this happen to you," said Ms. Stanley, an Island resident for 27 years. "We need to realize the Vineyard is not what it was. I guess if you're going to go to a beach, lock your car, hide stuff by putting it in the trunk where nobody can see it, and park in the most public place you can on whatever beach you go to."
Lt. Williamson and Lt. Bettencourt both recommend that people lock their cars when they park, and if possible, avoid leaving high-value items in their vehicles, even when locked.
Police chiefs contacted in Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury said there were no thefts from cars reported in their towns recently.
About three weeks ago, Tisbury Police Chief John Cashin said a driver in the Park and Ride lot reported a minivan he parked next to had a smashed rear window. However, Chief Cashin said the damaged van turned out to be one of several abandoned vehicles in the lot, for which he has been trying to track down the owners.
No other cars appeared to have been vandalized, Chief Cashin said, and there have been no other reports of car vandalism at the Park and Ride lot since then. He urged everyone to report any crime, no matter how small it seems, to the police.
"People may think something is random and assume we can't do anything about it," Chief Cashin said. "We certainly can't do anything if somebody doesn't report it, and by doing so, perhaps something will come up in the future where it will tie in."