BELFAST, Maine – The man police believe is responsible for six late-night burglaries in early November — including some in which wallets were taken from pants hanging on bedposts while residents slept inches away — is behind bars, Belfast Police Chief Michael McFadden said Friday.
Jason Beal, 22, of Belfast is being held at Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset on a probation violation from an earlier offense, McFadden said. Based on DNA evidence found on a screw driver and cigarette butt collected at the scene of one of the burglaries, police believe Beal is responsible for the bold burglaries that had the community on edge.
McFadden said the six burglaries on Nov. 8 and Nov. 9 left him more worried about the community’s safety than at any other time since he took over as chief a year earlier. Residents stopped him around town repeatedly and asked about the status of the investigation, with many telling him they were sleeping with a gun under the pillow or in the nightstand.
McFadden contacted local news media after the second night’s burglaries in an effort to have the then-unknown perpetrator stop.
“It was a double-edged sword,” he said, explaining that police hoped to catch the man responsible in the act of more burglaries, though they knew that notifying the public would likely prompt the burglar to lay low for a while. But McFadden said he worried more that someone might get shot if the burglaries continued. In particular, he worried about a resident hearing a noise at night and firing, perhaps at a child getting up for a glass of water.
“These type of burglaries are incredibly dangerous,” he said. More were expected after the first two nights, he said.
“What was different about these burglaries is that the person responsible was entering the houses at 1 a.m., 2 a.m., 3 a.m., snooping around, opening drawers. There were no rooms off limit as far as this person was concerned,” the police chief said. Items were taken from night stands and clothing while residents slept close by.
After stories were published about the burglaries, many residents followed the chief’s advice to leave outside lights on, keep doors locked and investigate unusual sounds. Patrols were increased in residential areas.
“It was a very stressful time for the entire community,” he said. “I’d hear about it almost every day.”
The burglaries were reported on Ocean, Salmond, Condon and School streets. In one instance, an elderly woman “awoke during the burglary and yelled at the individual to get out of her house,” and then barricaded herself in a room for hours until she felt safe enough to come out and contact police.
In one of the first burglaries, a screwdriver was found at the scene and a cigarette butt was retrieved from a toilet. Police also found a jacket outside of the houses and observed footprints.
“These footprints were consistent with each burglary,” McFadden said.
Belfast Det. Sgt. Bryan Cunningham gathered and processed the evidence. Maine State Police Det. Jason Andrews and Waldo County Sheriff’s Department Det. Jason Bosco assisted, with Bosco even coming back from vacation early to help with the investigation.
Police were able to convince the state crime lab that DNA testing was warranted on the items found at the scene. The items were sent to the lab on Nov. 16
“We asked them to put a rush on it,” the chief said, and the lab’s final report came on Dec. 21.
In the case of the screwdriver, 13 DNA “loci” were identified, “the best you can get,” McFadden said. The cigarette butt yielded four DNA loci, which matched the others. The information was fed into a national database operated by the FBI known as CODIS.
The chief said the database matched the DNA information to one name: Beal. Police learned that he was incarcerated, and began interviewing him. Beal has been uncooperative, McFadden said, so police don’t know if anyone else was involved.
Upon further investigation, some jewelry stolen from the homes was found to have been pawned or sold at area stores by Beal, police said. Cunningham obtained a warrant to search Beal’s home, where some of the stolen items were found, according to McFadden.
Cunningham also contacted the Two Bridges facility and asked about the shoes Beal was wearing.
“The shoes are a perfect match to the impressions we took at the scene,” the chief said. “We got our guy.”
The District Attorney’s Office plans to seek an indictment from the Waldo County Grand Jury next month, McFadden said. He said Beal has been arrested 11 times since 2008.
He praised all the members of his department and the other police agencies for pulling together on the case. Though most of the stolen items have been recovered, some — including possessions of sentimental value — remain missing.
McFadden said victims also suffered the loss “of something they can never get back — their security.”