Martha’s Vineyard police investigate rash of property thefts

Island police are investigating multiple property thefts in Chilmark, Edgartown, and West Tisbury. Thieves have hit West Tisbury the hardest, with 10 construction site thefts reported since November, the most recent incidents last weekend.

Thieves have taken tools, chainsaws, and heavy equipment from several construction sites, and some were hit twice, starting on November 15, according to West Tisbury police Chief Daniel Rossi.

“I would suggest that construction people should take measures to secure materials and tools at the end of each day and not leave things out where someone could come in and take them,” Chief Rossi said.

Chief Rossi’s department faxed lists of stolen items to all of the other Island police departments after each theft occurred and asked them to be on the lookout for the property or for people trying to sell it.

Asked for more details about the thefts, particularly those that occurred last weekend, Chief Rossi said, “An investigation is underway, and I don’t want to reveal what we know yet.”

West Tisbury Sgt. Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter, also a selectman, and Officer Jim Neville worked hard on the case Monday, the chief added.

“We have some things we’re looking at, and hopefully we can piece it together,” Chief Rossi said. “But we’ll take help from anyone at this point. If anyone has any information, please feel free to call the West Tisbury Police Department at 508-693-0020. And of course, it can be anonymous.”

Edgartown incidents

In Edgartown, Detective Sgt. Chris Dolby said a string of break-ins and thefts have been reported since the beginning of December.

In three of the incidents, thieves took tools from enclosed trailers parked at construction sites. Thieves also broke into four sheds on residential property. Three were located in the Meetinghouse Road area.

Detective Dolby said all of the sheds were locked, but the industrious thieves got in by unscrewing hinges and removing doors. In addition to tools, they stole chainsaws, a leafblower, and bicycles.

At Brewer Tree and Land Company, off Cleveland Town Road, thieves cut locks off a shed and storage trailer and stole a large amount of landscaping tools.

Detective Dolby said two breaks into cars in downtown Edgartown have also occurred since last month. On December 21, a man parked on Main Street and left his car unlocked with his wallet inside. When he returned the wallet was gone. Shortly afterwards, one of his credit card companies notified him of suspected fraudulent activity.

Det. Dolby said five of the man’s stolen credit cards were used to run up about $5,000 in charges traced to locations from Vineyard Haven to Lynn, Massachusetts. He provided some video surveillance photos to The Times of a group of suspects who used the credit cards in a Target store in Everett and have not been identified yet. If anyone has information or recognizes any of the suspects, call Det. Dolby at 508-627-4343.

On January 6, a woman’s purse and credit cards were stolen from her car parked on Winter Street. Det. Dolby said he also expects to receive video surveillance footage for that incident also.

“If it’s not locked or locked well, it’s going to get stolen,” he warned. “It’s only a matter of time. We’re on a little bit of a streak now, but it’s like that all the time now, so people really need to lock their cars and lock their doors and be diligent about it, because these are crimes of opportunity, basically.”

Det. Dolby says his concern is that property owners who only come to the Island on weekends during the winter don’t discover thefts right away.

“It could be a week later when people discover a break-in, and by then, we’re already a week behind,” he pointed out. “When we’re playing catch-up and the very next morning, the person got the stuff off the Island, it’s hard to track down stolen property.

“There’s other ways to go about it, though,” he added. “These things take time, so you catch the right person at the right time or hear the right thing at the right time, and hopefully it all unfolds.”

Chilmark thefts

Chilmark Police Chief Brian Cioffi said there have been several thefts at construction sites in his town, similar to what has happened in West Tisbury. Some sites were hit more than once, and the thefts occurred during the same time period.

“We’ve stepped up patrols and have added extra duty officers on the midnight shift,” Chief Cioffi said. “We also would caution and urge construction companies to secure tools at sites and secure buildings they’re working on, property owners to lock outbuildings and secure tools, and caretakers to check properties.”

Cooperative efforts

Tisbury Police Chief Dan Hanavan and Sgt. Paul G. Manning of Aquinnah said in phone calls Tuesday there have been no reports of construction site thefts in their towns from November until now.

In Oak Bluffs, police dealt with a case in November that sounded similar to the recent string of construction site and tool thefts, but was resolved.

Oak Bluffs police dealt with a break-in and the theft of a large quantity of tools at a construction project off County Road on November 30, 2010. Detective Nick Curelli and Lt. Tim Williamson, along with State Police Sgt. Jeff Stone, investigated the case.

Clues and forensic evidence left at the scene led to the arrest of William Munson Jr., 26, of Tisbury. Mr. Munson confessed to the theft and also admitted he was responsible for stealing tools from a jobsite in Tisbury, according to a police report. This week, another victim came forward and an additional charge was filed against Mr. Munson, according to Lt. Williamson.

“Nobody’s reported anything stolen in our town yet,” Lt. Williamson said in a phone call Tuesday, commenting on the recent construction site thefts. “However, sometimes people don’t realize they’ve had things taken for a little while.”

Det. Dolby said the Edgartown police also investigated Mr. Munson as a suspect, but found nothing that would allow them to pursue that lead any further.

All of the Island police departments said they continue to share information and provide each other with updates. Chief Cioffi said Island police chiefs and detectives met recently to pool their cases, looking at similarities.