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.
Rowley police filed multiple charges against Whitcomb yesterday, including armed robbery, unarmed robbery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and two counts of larceny.
"We're very happy to have him off the street," Rowley police Chief Robert Barker said yesterday.
Barker said charges against Avola may be filed if it's determined that she drove Whitcomb away from the stores he allegedly robbed.
Police allege Whitcomb first robbed Skip's Country Store on Sept. 21 of several hundred dollars. In that robbery, Whitcomb stabbed the clerk several times in the hands with a knife and then punched him repeatedly in an attempt to knock him out, police say.
On Oct. 26, Rowley police believe Whitcomb entered Skip's Country Store just past 7 p.m. and quickly jumped over the front counter, confronting the same clerk he attacked in September. He then grabbed the store's cash register and fled the store into a black, four-door sedan. The cash register's tape roll was scattered just outside the store's entrance. Police believe the suspect made off with about $400.
Barker said that while the clerk at Skip's Country Store was able to identify Whitcomb as the man who robbed him twice, what clinched the case against Whitcomb was physical evidence recovered at the scene. Detective Lt. Joseph Gamache was able to obtain a latent fingerprint from a box of crackers at the scene, and the state police crime lab was able to match the fingerprint to Whitcomb, Barker said.
"The work of my department was outstanding," Barker said. "Detective Lt. Joe Gamache, he never let up on this case. He worked this case tenaciously, and all the detectives from the other towns worked very hard."
Whitcomb has also been accused of robbing the Georgetown Liquor Store in September. Georgetown police issued an arrest warrant for Whitcomb, charging him with two counts of armed robbery, two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and two counts of intimidation of a witness related to the Georgetown Liquor Store robbery in September.
On Oct. 9, witnesses say a man in his 20s or 30s robbed the Cumberland Farms on Central Street in Ipswich. No weapon was shown in the Ipswich robbery, but the suspect came behind the counter much as the robber did at Skip's Country Store in September. Ipswich police have yet to formally charge Whitcomb for that robbery, but it is believed that he is responsible, according to police in Rowley and Georgetown.
"Looking at the litany of crimes he's committed, he's committed some violent crimes. He might have used more violence than necessary to accomplish his goals," Barker said.
Whitcomb is presently incarcerated at the Essex County House of Corrections in Middleton and is being held without bail pending his arraignment on the Rowley charges. Avola is being held at the Framingham House of Corrections.