Police using Web to catch state’s criminals

A man wanted for a $750 Sears heist. Two jewelry store bandits. A man sought for 18 murders.

They’re Maine’s newly named most wanted criminals.

Six weeks ago Maine followed Massachusetts’ lead and launched mainemostwanted.org, a Web site of hard-to-find and unidentified felons, with a mix of grainy surveillance images, mug shots and artists’ composite drawings. Currently, there are 28 names on the site.

Each picture links to a crime’s details, an investigator’s name and number.

Webmaster Wendy Kierstead, a criminal analyst with the Brunswick Police, has logged more than 45 e-mail tips from the public so far.

One man was ID’d by his mom.

An Arkansas woman offered up her ex-husband as someone caught on camera shoplifting. She gave his name, address and Social Security number.

Only, “it wasn’t him. We never thought it was,” Kierstead said. “We have to watch for people who have an ax to grind.”

Since the site went up five people have been identified and six more captured, though not all a direct result of their listing.

Charles Small, nabbed in a Buckfield closet last week, was pictured there.

State Trooper Steven Green said he got a number of phone calls from people who saw Small’s photo online. “We used some information in conducting a search warrant” for a different house, he said. Ultimately, the tip that led to his capture came from another agency.

Rick Desjardins, a patrol commander on the Brunswick force, said the site isn’t designed to rank any one alleged criminal as being more sought-after than another. (Numbers under each person’s name reflect the order that the case came in.)

Rather than rely on media to show a suspect’s picture once or twice, the Web site reaches a wider audience for a longer period of time, Desjardins said. “For us, it really gives us a chance to give the community a better idea of what’s going on.”

Police departments around the state have been encouraged to add their unsolved felonies.

Nine of the 28 currently posted are from Lewiston and Auburn. A man who held up Flagship Cinema in January. A woman who skipped town after an indictment for stealing $162,000 from Roux Insurance Services. A man on a warrant for burglary.

Other cases include a man who walked out of a Portland jewelry store with a $14,000 diamond ring and one who offered a woman a ride home from an Ogunquit Cumberland Farms and raped her.

The most infamous posting belongs to James “Whitey” Bulger, an organized crime figure from Boston indicted for 18 counts of murder and tied to another 21 deaths.

Jim Osterreider, supervisory special agent for the FBI in Maine, said there have been look-alike spottings of Bulger in Rangeley and other parts of the state. Each sighting was followed up and each time it isn’t him.

“We have no indication Whitey Bulger has ever been in the state of Maine,” Osterreider said.

But, he added, “Why not put him on the site? That’s how you catch these people. The more people that know what they look like, the better.”

Since July 2002, massmostwanted.org has captured 164 people, at least 50 directly as a result of the Web site, according to Sgt. Leo Hoban at the Westwood Police Department.

“One of our bank robbers was arrested last year with his Mass Most Wanted flier in his pocket,” Hoban said in an e-mail interview.

University of Maine at Augusta’s Maine Community Policing Institute supplied the $6,000 start-up money for Maine’s Web site.

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