BELFAST, Maine — If it seems like your Christmas card haul was a little light this year or that your Amazon order was late, it may not just be your imagination.
On Christmas morning, a Belfast police officer caught 19-year-old Randy Elwell of Swanville and a 17-year-old boy, whose identity was not released by authorities, and charged them in connection with the theft of mail and packages. The pair stole mail from the mailboxes of several hundred people who live in Belfast, Northport, Swanville, Searsport or Union, according to Belfast Police Chief Mike McFadden.
“If you didn’t get your stuff, don’t think your family doesn’t care about you,” McFadden said.
If it hadn’t been for a couple of sharp-eyed, light-sleeping Belfast residents, the thefts might have remained a mystery, McFadden said. Police received phone calls at 2:30 Sunday morning and then at 4:40 a.m., both reporting a car driving on the wrong side of the street and stopping at mailboxes. The second caller indicated that people in the car were using flashlights to look in mailboxes, McFadden said.
Officer Lewis Dyer, who was working his first shift after graduating from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, began searching for the car and driver. He found two young men in a vehicle parked behind the Faith Temple Church of God on Route 52 in Belfast.
“The car was just absolutely littered with mail,” McFadden said. “It was pretty crazy. It didn’t take long for Lewis to put two and two together.”
Dyer arrested Elwell and charged him with unauthorized taking or transfer, operating a defective motor vehicle and attachment of false plates, all Class E misdemeanor crimes. The 17-year-old was issued a summons and released into the custody of his parents, McFadden said.
Then police began the work of cataloging the mail.
Items taken from the car included Christmas cards and Amazon packages, among other things. There were mail-order prescription drugs, Netflix movies, gift cards, cash, letters and much more.
“Anything you might expect would be in a mailbox was in the car,” McFadden said.
Officers Jonathan Guba and Eric Kelley went through each piece of mail, documenting the name and address of each recipient, so that police could have an accurate list of the victims. Later Christmas Day, McFadden wrote a Facebook post that detailed the situation and gave a list of streets from which they had recovered stolen mail.
Those streets are: in Belfast: Congress Street, Harvey Street, Hammond Drive, Smart Road, Reeds Lane, Swan Lake Avenue, Lincolnville Avenue, Battery Road, Herrick Road, Boynton Drive, Wight Street, Woodrow Lane, Cedar Street and Hatley Road; in Northport: Atlantic Highway, Bluff Road, Cross Street, Bayside Road, Rocky Road, Tall Oaks Drive, Broadway Road, Clinton Street and Little River Lane; in Swanville: Curtis Road, Pine Road, Oak Hill Road, Merry Lane [believed to be in Swanville], Roberts Road and Ellis Road; in Searsport: East Main Street; in Union: Bonnie Lane; and in an unknown municipality: Willow Way.
The chief said that on Tuesday, when the post office opens after the holiday weekend, officers will contact officials to tell them what had happened and see if they are interested in pursuing federal charges against the two men. Then police will work on making contact with every person who was a victim of the mail theft.
Police also are looking into the possibility that the mail theft was not just a one-night occurance.
“We’re taking it seriously,” McFadden said. “We want [Elwell and the juvenile] to be held accountable, and the first step is to identify the victims.”
Elwell, whose bail was set at $250 cash, already has been released from Waldo County Jail.
“I think the bail does not represent the seriousness of the action here,” McFadden said.
The chief said that he wasn’t sure how fast the stolen mail could be returned because he needed to speak with someone from the U.S. Postal Service first to learn what that agency requires.
McFadden said he hopes that people who suspect they may have been robbed will call police at 338-2040 to let them know. He also hopes that the incident may inspire more people to let police know if they see something strange in their neighborhood.
“It’s so important, that if you see something, say something,” he said. “The [suspects] had literally opened and shut mailboxes and taken hundreds and hundreds of pieces of mail. Only two people noticed, or bothered to call.”