NEWBURYPORT — Robert Jones and Marie Shelley, the Merrimac husband and wife who allegedly ran a prostitution ring from their Nichols Street home, were back in court yesterday facing new charges based on a confrontation with a “john” they allegedly robbed.
Jones, 32, was charged with unarmed robbery and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. Shelley, 28, faces an additional sexual conduct for a fee charge, plus an unarmed robbery charge.
According to court records, Jones and Shelley had advertised her services on Craigslist after moving into the Nichols Street house owned by Jones’ grandmother. The modest 100-year-old home sits close to the road on a corner lot where two side streets meet, surrounded by dozens of homes in an old neighborhood about a half-mile from downtown Merrimac.
Local police began their investigation into the couple in December when they began receiving tips from neighbors about an increase of traffic and the sighting of many men coming to the house. A check of the house by police confirmed the complaints as officers spotted numerous vehicles and lone men entering the house at all times of the day and night. The couple was arrested in March.
In the days following their arrests, the alleged victim of a New Year’s Eve robbery contacted police with an offer to help their investigation. The alleged victim had previously contacted police just after he was robbed, but police failed to connect with him.
According to the report of Merrimac police officer Robert Coppola, the alleged victim came forward to tell police that he had been robbed by the duo inside their home after he responded to a “Casual Encounters” ad on Craigslist.
When the alleged victim met Shelley at her residence, they went upstairs to a bedroom, where he paid her $150 in advance. Shelley immediately took off her clothes and then started yelling, “I said no, you’re hurting me!” The alleged victim told police he hadn’t even touched her when she began yelling. He then asked for his money back, saying he was leaving. Shelley again yelled at him to leave and to stop hurting her.
As he went down the stairs, he ran into Jones, who had just entered the hallway and immediately asked what he was doing to her. The alleged victim told him that he hadn’t done anything to her but would like his money back. Jones became belligerent, told him to leave immediately and threatened to harm him if he didn’t comply.
“The alleged victim opened the kitchen door and once again asked for his money back. That prompted Jones to run over to the door and slam it, hitting him in the process. The alleged victim then left and called the Merrimac Police Department to report the incident, according to Coppola’s report.
“It is reasonable to believe that Marie was signalling Robert that the money exchange had taken place by making those claims loudly so that Robert could assist in robbing [the alleged victim},” Coppola wrote in his report.
The alleged victim was forthcoming with police, telling them that he had attempted to hire Shelley for sex and that he found her through Craigslist.
In the days before the alleged robbery, emails between the alleged victim and Shelley or Jones detailed prices for sexual services using the word roses in place of dollars, ranging from 100 to 200 roses.
“Let me know what your (sic) interested in n how much u can swing maybe I can wrk (sic) with u,” Shelley or Jones allegedly wrote.
Coppola said through his experience as a law enforcement officer, the language is consistent with soliciting sex.
Additional emails sent to the alleged victim showed photos of Shelley naked from the waist up and sporting the same mattress the alleged victim said he saw in the bedroom.
Upon the arrests of Jones and Shelley, the alleged victim visited the Merrimac Police Department, where he identified Jones as the man who allegedly slammed the door on him and Shelley as the woman who offered sex for money.
According to Coppola’s report, Jones and Shelley may have ripped off other men using the same routine.
“I have evidence through a Craigslist subpoena that the same scheme has been carried out in the past. On Dec. 1, 2, and 21, someone created a post warning other people that a girl invites people to her home on Nichols Street, gets naked and her husband walks in acting like he doesn’t know what’s going on and she takes off with the money,” Coppola writes in his report.
Merrimac police Chief Eric Shears said police are continuing their investigation into the alleged prostitution ring, adding that it has yet to be determined whether the alleged victim will be charged.
Yesterday, Jones was ordered held on $2,000 on the new charges but is still being held without bail on a fugitive from justice charge based out of New Hampshire. In March, he was originally charged with deriving support from prostitution, keeping a noisy and disorderly house and carrying a dangerous weapon.
Shelley, wearing a business suit and glasses, had been released on $500 cash bail after successfully petitioning to have her bail reduced from $2,000 following her March arraignment. In March, she was charged with sexual conduct for a fee and keeping a noisy and disorderly house. Yesterday, Shelley was released on the same $500 bail but was ordered to stay away from and have no contact with the alleged victim.
Both are due back May 8 for a further pre-trial event.
In early March, the duo was arrested by Merrimac police armed with a warrant after an undercover state trooper posed as a client and was offered sex for $100 by Shelley.