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Making the case of positive identication

Open house for stolen goods links victims and crimes

  • Recorder/Geoff Bluh<br/>Burglary victims try to identify objects from burglary evidence collected in numerous investigations during Saturday’s Burglary Fair at theAthol Town Hall.

    Recorder/Geoff Bluh
    Burglary victims try to identify objects from burglary evidence collected in numerous investigations during Saturday’s Burglary Fair at theAthol Town Hall.

  • Recorder/Geoff Bluh<br/>Evidence on display from burglary investigation cases lined tables in the basement of the Athol Town Hall on Saturday during the Burglary Fair. Victims of burglaries came in hopes of identifying and recovering their stolen property.<br/>

    Recorder/Geoff Bluh
    Evidence on display from burglary investigation cases lined tables in the basement of the Athol Town Hall on Saturday during the Burglary Fair. Victims of burglaries came in hopes of identifying and recovering their stolen property.

  • Recorder/Geoff Bluh<br/>Burglary victims try to identify objects from burglary evidence collected in numerous investigations during Saturday’s Burglary Fair at theAthol Town Hall.
  • Recorder/Geoff Bluh<br/>Evidence on display from burglary investigation cases lined tables in the basement of the Athol Town Hall on Saturday during the Burglary Fair. Victims of burglaries came in hopes of identifying and recovering their stolen property.<br/>

ATHOL — An open house of stolen goods drew a huge crowd to Town Hall Saturday, where Police were able to link recovered property to burglaries near and far, some more than a year ago.

“The aim was to identify the owners of all this property, to identify where the crimes took place,” said Athol Police Chief Timothy Anderson.

On a horseshoe of folding tables in the Town Hall basement, lay a plethora of pilfered property, with each of more than 600 items individually bagged and tagged. Now that it’s been linked to several specific burglaries or break-ins, evidence recovered in several searches will have more weight in court.

Hundreds of people filed through the lineup, in hopes of being reunited with their stolen goods. They came from in town, and as far away as Clinton, Sturbridge, and Winchester, N.H.

“We’ve had some varied reactions when people found their things,” said Anderson. “Some have been very calm, one woman broke down, she was really emotional.”

“It’s a shame to see this many people that have been victims of burglaries,” said Anderson. “But today has been excellent, I’m very happy with the results.”

Some of the victims found items they thought were gone for good.

“We came expecting to find nothing,” said Phyllis Herda, of Leverett. “Our house was broken into back in November of 2011. I was quite surprised to find anything at all.”

Though most of the jewelry taken from her house didn’t turn up Saturday, Herda was glad to find what she did.

“I found a gold rope chain, and a silver brooch with mother of pearl, that was my mother-in-law’s,” she said. “That had sentimental value, though it’s not worth a lot of money.”

“We also had more than 40 pairs of gold earrings taken, and other chains, brooches, and necklaces. Some of it had a lot of value,” said her husband, Hans Herda.

The victims won’t get their items back until the case has gone through court, but they may rest a little easier knowing they’re being kept safe, and could help bring them justice.

The items were recovered through several residence and vehicle search warrants executed in Athol, Orange and Gardner, said Anderson, but similarities suggest several suspects working together.

Anderson said the burglaries were all committed in a similar fashion.

“The thieves make entry, go straight to your bedroom, take your own pillowcase and fill it with valuables, and leave,” he said. He declined to comment on how many suspects are being investigated.

Though the Herdas and several others found their missing items, some weren’t as lucky.

“All we saw was the pillow case they’d used to carry everything,” said Randall Matthews of Orange. His family’s house had been broken into last October, and thieves filled one of their pillowcases with jewelry and made off with the Matthews’ safe in the middle of the day.

“It happened between 11 a.m. and noon, when I got home. They kicked in the back door, and ran out the front,” said Matthews. He said the stolen items didn’t have much cash value, but they were near and dear to the family.

“They’re lucky if they got $50 for what they took. There was nothing in the safe but some important papers, and the kids’ old grammar school report cards,” he said. “The jewelry had sentimental value. There was a silver spoon I was given at birth, with the time and date I was born. I wish I had that back.”

“They got my grandfather’s pocket watch,” said his wife, Karen Matthews.

“It was kind of tough to find your own gold chain when there are 100 others here, too,” said Randall Matthews.

Most of the items on display Saturday were pieces of jewelry, but there were other goods as well. Among the rings, bracelets and brooches were smart phones, camera equipment, collectible coins and a book to identify them.

“This event was an important step in our investigation,” said Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Bucci. “It brought to our attention several burglaries (related to the case).”

The wide radius and time frame of the crimes has brought several western and central Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire police departments together to investigate dozens of break-ins, and Saturday’s event should help streamline their efforts.

“I expect that our focus will be narrowed and directed as a result of the information gathered today,” he said.

Charges have not yet been filed in the investigation, and Bucci said he could not say when his office will be ready to bring the case to court.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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