WESTERLY — Two local residents are facing charges after police said a call from an alert homeowner led to the discovery that they had been taking packages in three local towns over the past week.
Officers acting on a complaint were able to obtain a description from an Oak Street resident who, while passing his home running errands in the community, witnessed a man holding packages that had been left on his front porch, according to Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey. He said the description provided, along with surveillance photos and video from the past week, helped connect the two to recent thefts.
John McCauley, 45, and Jamie Smith, 39, both of whom were recently staying temporarily at a home on Ashaway Road, were each charged Saturday afternoon with two counts of larceny under $1,500 and two counts of conspiracy to commit larceny. McCauley was also charged with attempted larceny after he was caught in the act by one of the victims.
"We are still sorting out the evidence, but it appears they had been driving around and took packages from Westerly, Hopkinton and Stonington," Lacey said. "We are working with other area agencies to determine where each package was taken from. Further charges are likely."
Lacey said police received a cell phone call from a man on Oak Street early Saturday afternoon when the victim saw McCauley holding packages on his porch while driving by. The man stopped and approached McCauley, who indicated he "was moving them to knock on the door," before ending the conversation and quickly leaving. The caller took pictures that were provided to police.
The caller was able to provide a detailed description of the car, a Toyota, as well as details about McCauley, including his appearance, right down to a pair of sunglasses he was wearing on his head. The packages that McCauley was holding included a blanket and dog food, police said, but he dropped the packages before fleeing, which led to the attempted larceny charge.
Police searched the area but were initially unable to locate the vehicle. Lacey said a little over an hour later, police located McCauley's car in the parking lot of Westerly Hospital, with the sunglasses described by the Oak Street resident laying on the front seat and package materials strewn in the back of the car.
An officer took the victim to identify McCauley, but he was initially unable to do so and told the officer, "the man with the packages had a goatee." Lacey said it was later discovered that, after being caught, McCauley had gone home and shaved his goatee off.
Officers entered the hospital and spoke with Smith, who identified herself as McCauley's girlfriend, and she initially denied the thefts, stating she and McCauley had been there "all day," but would not provide a statement. He arrived a few minutes later and was taken into custody.
Police also searched the home where the two were staying and spoke with the homeowner, who was cooperative and unaware of any activity. She indicated to police, who questioned her about her garage, that she "had not used it in years" before providing them access.
Lacey said officers found multiple packages inside, including two reported stolen on Dec. 13, one taken from Hillview Drive containing a Battle Bots set valued at $150, and the other containing a children's boot, hat and glove set that was stolen from George Street. In addition, police recovered packages from at least four Hopkinton addresses and three Stonington addresses.
Following the discovery, Lacey said Smith was more cooperative and admitted involvement.
"She explained that they had been driving around that week and were taking them from wherever they could find them," he said. "Some of the items were sold, some were re-gifted; we are still trying to sort all that out."
Lacey indicated that Smith told him the couple got the idea "while watching the news."
Hopkinton Police Capt. Mark Carrier said the community has only had two reported thefts this month, but added that based on evidence collected by Westerly police, they are pursuing charges against McCauley and Smith in both of those cases. He said they anticipate each would be charged within the next couple days.
Additional charges are also expected in Stonington, police officials indicated.
Carrier, who noted that the department warned people to be vigilant with a Facebook post on Thursday, praised the work of Westerly detectives and said their efforts have helped preserve a happy holiday for other would-be victims.
"When you look at this whole case, it is an example of how crime does not just stop at the state border or town line," Carrier said. "When training, I tell my guys to keep an open line of communication. Westerly did here, and it may have helped bring other cases throughout the area to a close."
Both Carrier and Lacey said while this is expected to curb some of the reports, there are still others out there who may be seeking to steal from your front porch. Each warned residents to remain alert and to take packages inside as soon as possible.
They said anyone who believes they are missing a package should contact police. Both Lacey and Carrier said there appear to be more packages than victims, and police are still trying to find all the rightful owners.
"If you think you are missing something, give us a call," Lacey said.