Boston cops come through with a big Island assist

Old fashioned police work, combined with high tech, led to the quick recovery of an Islander’s stolen laptop.

Cole Powers, shown here in the office of Powers Electric, was relieved to recover his stolen computers. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Martha’s Vineyard electrical contractor Cole Powers has a police story to tell that puts many television crime dramas to shame. The elements include the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Bruins, Quincy police, Oak Bluffs police, a longstanding Edgartown police relationship with members of Boston’s gang unit, an iPad with a built-in tracking device, a Dorchester parking lot stakeout and a criminal without a password and a long criminal history of breaking and entering.

Last Thursday, Mr. Powers left his West Tisbury house to meet a friend and watch the Red Sox play the Yankees at Fenway Park. He stayed overnight at his friend’s house in Quincy and awakened about 4:30 am, so he could catch the 7 am Steamship Authority ferry back to the Island and to work.

As he drove away he noticed a door ajar signal on his dash. The trunk was open. He pulled over to close it and realized that his computer bag containing a laptop, a new iPad with cellular service, three company checkbooks, and personal documents was missing.

“Basically, an identity theft goldmine,” he told The Times in a phone conversation Tuesday.

Mr. Powers said normally he would not have been carrying a treasure trove of personal information with him, but someone had recently entered the building where his office is located on Beach Road and stolen some computers from one of the other tenants. “Ironically, I thought it would be safer with me,” he said.

Nothing seemed amiss with his car. Mr. Powers figured he had left the bag in his friend’s house. Not wanting to wake him up — people on the mainland lock their doors, he said — he sent a text message. When his friend awakened and responded some time later, Mr. Powers learned the bag was not there. He looked in his center console. Cash he had placed there was missing, and he realized someone had broken into his car without leaving a trace.

He was halfway to the ferry, so he continued on his way. After he arrived at his office about 8 am, his office manager was able to learn that his new iPad had a tracking app and it was live and on his computer monitor in Vineyard Haven they could see the iPad was in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood.


Mr. Powers called Quincy police. “I told them what had happened, that my car had been broken into and all my stuff had been stolen, and we could see the location of the iPad, that it’s in Dorchester.”

The police officer told Mr. Powers he would have to come to the station and fill out a report. “I’m like, I’m on the Vineyard now, time is of the essence. If we don’t get this guy now he’s going to realize he’s being tracked.”

The Quincy officer told Mr. Powers there was nothing he could do to help unless a report was filed.

Distressed, Mr. Powers turned to friends. He called Oak Bluffs Police Lieutenant Tim Williamson who checked with some of his fellow officers to see if anyone had any contacts in Quincy who might be able to get the investigative ball rolling until Mr. Powers could return to Quincy.

“I wasn’t having any luck so I asked Cole if he had that find my iPhone app,” Mr. Williamson told The Times in a phone conversation. “He said, yeah, I do, so I said, log into it. Let’s see where it’s located.”

The iPad location came back as Dorchester Avenue in Boston. “He [Mr. Powers] said, I’m watching it move, it’s at a dental clinic on Dorchester Ave.”

Lt. Williamson called Edgartown Detective Mike Snowden.

Edgartown Police have a longstanding relationship with Boston Police that began in the early 90s, when members of the Boston Police assisted Edgartown when known city gang members traveled to the Island.

Lieutenant Williamson asked Detective Snowden if he could help out. While Mr. Williamson stayed on the line, Mr. Snowden contacted Sergeant Teahan, a member of Boston’s youth violence strike task force, who said he happened to have two officers in a car in the area.

A beautiful thing

Mr. Powers provided his tracking login number and password to Detective Snowden. With Boston and Edgartown police listening in, Mr. Snowden called up the signal on his computer and directed the officers to the area where it was originating.

The Boston police officers sat in the parking lot and observed the cars. When the signal moved they went to the next location. Following a third change of location they were able to identify the one person they had seen at all three stops.

The Boston Police officers asked Hieu Nguyen, 30, if he had any computers in his bag. Mr. Nguyen had an iPad and Apple Macbook, according to the police report, “and he stated that he had bought them from ‘some guy’ and did not possess the passwords.” Police placed him under arrest on a charge of receiving stolen property.

About 20 minutes after his first phone call, Lieutenant Williamson called Edgartown for a status update.

“In custody, all property recovered,” Detective Snowden said. It had taken less than one hour from the time Mr. Powers first called Oak Bluffs police.

Boston police contacted Mr. Powers and told him that he still needed to file a police report with Quincy police in order to tie the theft to the recovered bag and computers. Mr. Powers called Quincy police again and asked for the officer in charge.

The patrolman on the other end of the line said he could help. “He said, why do you need him, I can help you. That’s when I explained, I don’t think you can.”

Mr. Powers explained that the Boston Police had his bag and the thief but needed a police report, but as he had learned earlier, the report needed to be filed in person. The patrolman handed his call to his supervisor. Mr. Powers said he didn’t argue with him but pointed out, “They’ve got the guy in custody, what do you want them to do, wait for me to go up to Quincy?”

The supervisor agreed to make an exception in this case and take a report over the phone. Once he had a case number, Mr. Powers was able to call Boston Police “and they sort of took it from there.”

On Saturday, Chief Bettencourt and Detective Snowden had plans to meet some members of the Boston gang unit and watch the Boston Bruins play the Red Wings at Boston Garden that afternoon. When the Island officers arrived at the Garden, the Boston Police handed them all of Mr. Power’s stolen property.

On Monday morning, Detective Snowden handed it all back to a very surprised and grateful Mr. Powers. “To big city police this is small beans,” Mr. Powers told The Times. “It’s not really important stuff when you’re dealing with murders and rapes and really bad stuff and trying to catch those types of criminals, but it was important to me and everybody worked together.”

Mr. Powers said he was fortunate that his iPad was new and came with a tracking system and that he had left it on overnight. But above all it was the Island police and their sense of community policing, he said, that made the difference.

“That’s what they’re there for, to serve and protect,” he said, “and they acted quickly and in a professional manner. I would say the whole thing was done in less than two hours.”

Lieutenant Williamson said he could not believe the news when he heard it from Detective Snowden. Unlike television, he said, it does not always wrap up so quickly and with such good results. “But when it does it’s a beautiful thing,” he said.