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November 15, 2011

Facebook plays role in store robbery arrests

ROWLEY — Local police have formally charged a Beverly man in connection with the September and October robberies at Skip's Country Store on Route 133, and a Facebook posting has led to even more charges against him and his girlfriend.

Michael J. Whitcomb, 41, of 28 Kelleher Road was picked up by Peabody police earlier this month after a robbery and stabbing in that city and is believed to be responsible for a string of convenience store and liquor store robberies in Georgetown, Ipswich and Westford, police say. Police also believe that Whitcomb's girlfriend, Jennifer L. Avola, 33, of 57 Long Bow Road, Danvers, served as his accomplice and may have been behind the wheel immediately following at least one of the robberies. Avola was also picked up by Peabody police at the time of Whitcomb's arrest.

But it's the Westford robbery — in which police posted a very crisp copy of the store robbery in an attempt to nab the thieves — that may be unique.

The Westford robbery at Littleton Road Liquors took place Oct. 4. The video shows Whitcomb viciously assaulting a female clerk before running out of the store with hundreds of dollars in cash. Whitcomb's girlfriend was seen on the video entering the store a few minutes earlier.

When both Whitcomb and Avola were arrested in Peabody in late October, Westford police were able to tie the two to the Littleton Road Liquors robbery by physical evidence at the scene and the fact they were wearing the same clothing, Westford police Captain Victor Neal said.

"Kind of a no-brainer," Neal said.

Also instrumental in securing charges against Whitcomb and Avola was placing the video on the department's Facebook page in the days following the robbery, Neal added. Peabody police saw the post and made the connection.

Westford police charged Whitcomb and Avola with unarmed robbery, larceny over $250, assault and battery and threat to commit a crime.

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