By Monica Jerkins
OXFORD — Police in Kennebec County have identified a suspect and issued an arrest warrant in a string of burglaries that spans three, possibly four, counties, including two burglaries that occurred in the town of Oxford along Route 26 in early November.
Detective Michael Bickford of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office said a warrant has been issued for 39-year-old John Howard of Augusta for at least three burglaries in Kennebec County. Warrants are pending in Androscoggin and Oxford counties, and Bickford said police are still investigating whether similar crimes in the Farmington area might also be linked to the string of thefts.
“He had a car, and his wife had a car. He drove from Augusta, down 202, into Manchester … Winthrop. The next time he would decide to do a burglary, he would choose a different route,” said Bickford.
In the late evening of Nov. 1 or early morning hours of Nov. 2, a burglar broke through the front doors of The Lost Gull Seafood Restaurant and Smedberg’s Crystal Spring Farm on Route 26 and stole an undisclosed amount of cash and rolled coins from the cash registers at those locations. Investigators from the Oxford Police Department believed the two crimes were connected because of the similar circumstances, timing and the fact that the same tool was used to gain entry at both locations.
The Sun Journal wrote about the incident, and Lt. Michael Ward of the Oxford Police Department said when Det. Maurice Drouin of the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office read the piece, he contacted Ward about a possible related crime spree in two other counties.
A month earlier, on Sept. 29, three businesses were burglarized along Route 202 in Manchester and Winthrop in Kennebec County. During this same time period, Det. Drouin reported that at least eight similar crimes occurred in town’s within his jurisdiction.
Bickford said the amounts of cash taken in the Kennebec burglaries were not large, with the total amount from all three businesses for which Howard is the suspect in burglarizing amounting to about $200.
Bickford’s investigation of the Kennebec County burglaries eventually led police to Howard at his last-known residence on Civic Drive in Augusta. At that time, Howard admitted to the Kennebec County burglaries and several others that took place in Androscoggin and Oxford counties. Police also recovered evidence that linked Howard to the other burglaries. Det. Drouin said the evidence included tools from an Auburn burglary and rolls of coins from the Oxford burglaries.
“He was looking for money to buy drugs,” said Bickford, adding that Howard was a long-time heroin addict. “(There are) three that he admitted to, and we suspect several more that he was unsure of. A lot of times these guys break into so many places, they can’t remember.”
According to a published report in the Kennebec Journal on Oct. 29, Howard had pleaded guilty in April of 2015 to a charge of theft by receiving stolen property for pawning stolen tools in exchange for heroin and cash.
At a sentencing hearing in late October, Howard’s attorney presented a memo to the court stating that, since his arrest, Howard was rehabilitated and working full time. The court suspended Howard’s five-year sentence, placed him on two years of probation and ordered him to pay restitution in the amount of $11,562, according to the article.
Given his probation status and addiction issues, the detectives agreed to allow Howard to meet with his probation officer the following day and turn himself in. Instead, Bickford said, Howard never showed up to the meeting with his probation officer and has since disappeared.
Anyone with information regarding Howard’s whereabouts can contact Det. Michael Bickford at the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office at (207)623-3614, ext. 1202, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.