, Newburyport, MA

February 28, 2013

Decrease in copper thefts linked to arrest

By Dave Rogers
Staff Writer

---- — SALISBURY — Copper thefts, mostly from empty vacation homes, have plunged over the last month in town — about the time a Haverhill man was arrested by police in that community on a previous warrant, according to Salisbury police Chief Thomas Fowler.

Richard McPhee of Haverhill was charged in connection with three of the reported vacation house breaks based on information obtained by police after questioning two of his accomplices caught breaking into a Central Avenue beach house Monday, Jan. 21.

The accomplices, Chris and Kim LaValley, both of whom were living at Michael’s Oceanside Motel on Central Avenue, implicated McPhee as the mastermind behind the rash of thefts, according to Fowler.

“This all stemmed from some excellent police work from patrol officers and detectives,” Fowler said.

Fowler said part of the department’s investigation led detectives to question scrap metal yard owners who are required to record the names of everyone who sells them metal. The names of the three people involved were mentioned at more than one scrap yard, further strengthening the department’s case. Copper prices have risen sharply over the last several years, making the metal a tempting target to thieves who then sell what they steal to scrap metal dealers.

“We’ve seen a substantial decrease since we’ve identified these people,” Fowler said.

Over the years, police have surmised that selling scrap metal has become one of the most popular way drug addicts have obtained enough cash to pay for their next fix.

Using information gleaned from the three people involved in the copper thefts, police were able to close the books on another troubling incident, a Jan. 11 daytime housebreak on Baker Road. As a result, three Haverhill residents were charged Tuesday with multiple felonies, including willful and malicious injury to real property, larceny over $250, larceny from a building and breaking and entering of a building to commit a felony. John Clark, 40; Samantha Lowe, 24; and Dustin Larrabee, 28; all of 9 Kenoza St., No. 2, Haverhill; were summonsed by Detective Steven Sforza and are expected to be arraigned in Newburyport District Court in the near future.

The rash of beachfront house breaks last month prompted Fowler to issue a Code Red phone blast to beach-area residents who had signed up for the department’s robocall program. The call asked residents to be vigilant in reporting suspicious behavior, especially around the beach area. It also informed the public that police were close to making at least one arrest in connection with the thefts.

During the height of the crime wave, police assigned an officer to patrol Salisbury Beach using a four-wheel vehicle. Fowler said the officer was on the beach mainly to look for more vacant homes that may have been victimized by the thieves.