Capturing criminals until the money runs out.


She walked empty-handed into Gritty’s Pub on a busy Friday night in February and nonchalantly left with another woman’s purse.

Then she faked Good Samaritan. At the Hannaford Bros. up the road, she handed the now-cashless bag to a cashier, said she’d found it in the parking lot and disappeared into the Auburn night.

It’s a weird case.

In a small yet largely law-abiding state with a dearth of serious crime, it’s enough to make her one of Maine’s Most Wanted.

Since its inception two years ago, 144 people have been featured on in a mix of grainy surveillance stills, composite sketches and mug shots. Alleged crimes have ranged from bank robbery to stealing police radios.

Seventy-six fugitives have been captured. The latest capture credited to the site: Robert Fain’s dramatic arrest in Tennessee this month.

Worried that her mother was being taken for a ride by her new boyfriend, a young girl down there Googled Fain’s name. popped up. He was wanted for bad checks and theft.

“That’s the epitome of what you hope to have happen,” said Andrew Robitaille, an information support analyst for the Lewiston Police Department. He’s submitted lots of cases and gets a few e-tips each month.

Robitaille’s convinced even criminals check it to rat each other out.

Wendy Kierstead, crime analyst for the Brunswick Police Department and’s webmaster, said mostly felonies land people on the site. Departments in southern and central Maine use it more than northern departments. It’s open to all.

Maine was second in New England, behind Massachusetts, to launch an online criminal list. It’s not ranked from bad to worse; newly submitted cases appear first.

Kierstead gets a dozen tips a week, from the seemingly authentic to the bizarre. Better than 50 percent come from relatives or former flames.

She said other people “look at different pictures and try to play detective” – using their free to time study images posted on similar Web sites by other states and even nations – and then ask her, “I wonder if you’ve noticed these guys look alike?”

The site currently has 78 cases, with nearly one-third labeled “captured.” She leaves those photos up for police departments investigating potentially related cases, and for victims who often identify an assailant after seeing his picture again. (It’s mostly men.)

Mike Simoneau, a local probation and parole officer, said he put Raymond Beltran – also known as Luis Beltran and Luis Rodriguiz – on a month ago. It’s his first time using it.

Beltran, from Lewiston, walked away from probation in June 2004. He’d been convicted of four counts of gross sexual assault.

Simoneau’s gotten a few tips, but nothing concrete yet.

“This gentleman is a really bad dude. He’s got convictions in New York, New Jersey,” he said. “I don’t know if he’s still in Maine, but certainly, let’s get him off the street.”

Lewiston police used the site to identify a man involved in a burglary of Pine Tree Trading pawn shop two years ago.

Det. Scot Bradeen said the suspect took large amounts of jewelry. Bradeen collected DNA from the scene and compared it to a Maine bank of DNA; no hits. Months went by before a Massachusetts woman who saw the surveillance photo from the burglary on the Web site e-mailed: “I think that was my boyfriend.”

Bradeen ran the sample against DNA in Massachusetts. He got a match. It was that guy.

“We have him for this cold. It’s just a matter of catching him now,” he said.

Kierstead was initially frustrated that pictures from recent area bank robberies, which had more people – especially bankers – visiting the site, didn’t yield any tips from the public. That “surprised the hell out of me,” she said.

Police arrested a man in Auburn on Monday after a bank holdup there. He’s been labeled a person of interest for other heists.

Perhaps a more pressing frustration: is out of money.

Funds from the University of Maine at Augusta’s Maine Community Policing Institute are gone. The site costs $1,200 a year. Police in Maine are prohibited from soliciting funds so its future is uncertain.

“We’re probably going on fumes right now,” Kierstead said.

She’ll put information up until the site is pulled or a donor comes forward.

In the meantime, Auburn Police Detective James Lawlor III is hoping to get a tip on that Gritty’s purse thief-turned-Samaritan.

“It struck me as odd, too. I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” Lawlor said. “The way she did it, it was definitely not her first time doing it. She spent less than 10 minutes in the (bar).”