Serial Armed Robberies & the Power of Map Visualizations

Opening Theme

From March 20 through April 11, 2018 the metropolitan area surrounding Portland Maine, has been subject to a series of armed robberies.  Directed at convenience stores, coffee shops, and small restaurants, the robberies were conducted by an armed white male with a height of between 5′ 7″ and 5′ 11″ high.

Needless to say, this criminal spree has been upsetting for local citizens and must have been terrifying for people working alone at these stores. The robber was cautious and kept himself masked. He was generally covered up in winter wear and gloves. He worked predominantly in the evening hours after sunset.

The robberies proceeded daily for at least a week.  The locations were at first distributed across the metro area over a radius of roughly 15  miles, but eventually that radius expanded to about 25 miles.

Map Business Online Get’s Involved

On the afternoon of Sunday, April 8, a local online news article published an address list of all the robbery locations. I copied the list into an Excel sheet, opened up Map Business Online and imported the address list in my business mapping software.

My task was to narrow down the area where the perpetrator lived so that traffic cams could be set up to capture pictures of possible perp getaway vehicles. (Law & Order Noise.)  Just to be clear, this was my idea. I assigned the task to myself. No authorities were involved.

You’re welcome.

Preparing the Data

While my point in this blog is the power of map visualizations which reveal patterns in data, I also believe the process of setting up a map itself focuses the amateur sleuth mind on anomalies hidden in a criminal process or perhaps a business situation. I compiled key elements of the robbery data into my spread sheet:

  • Robbery incidents – AM or PM
  • The times of the robberies
  • The names of the targets, which pretty much identifies what the businesses are

What do all these locations have in common? Why would the robber travel all the way to Old Orchard Beach for one robbery – a fifteen mile drive as the crow flies? How often were these robberies occurring? What was he going to wear in the summer months? Questions filled my mind.

I anxiously uploaded my spreadsheet.

My Map Visualization

Looking at the robbery location points spread across the Portland Maine metro-area I immediately noticed that the robberies were weighted heavily over the city of Westbrook.  It made me think that the perpetrator probably lives in Westbrook.  The spread indicated he was using a vehicle – he’s not simply walking around robbing places.

I turned on the city limits layer and, just interested in the outline of Westbrook, I created a territory out of just Westbrook and adjusted the transparency to keep it highlighted slightly against my aerial image with streets background.

Full on CSI now, thinking about time of day, I noticed in the first week of incidents the masked suspect robbed these business, one per day in the evening – mostly in the 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM time frame. But there was an odd exception. On Thursday, March 22 our cautious bandit robbed two stores, one in broad daylight the other in the evening as usual.

This shift in patterned caught my eye. I zoomed into the area.  I was familiar with it.  Why would he rob the Good Things convenience store at 1:00 PM in the afternoon?  The road is a connector road between two major commuter routes.  The store is a sleepy neighborhood convenience store. The Google street view map showed practically no signage. Whoever robbed this place, was familiar with it. They must live nearby.  A careful culprit would only take the daylight risk if he had an easy walk or ride back to his lair.

I drew a red circle with a .5 mile radius around the Good Things convenience store.  I was pretty sure the perp lived in that area. I lit a cigarette with a match, my eyes squinting the smoke away as I shook the match out. (Law & Order Noise.)

[I don’t really smoke and SpatialTEQ does not condone smoking – it’s just cool for true crime stories]

For the next ten days local citizens watched with concern as more armed robberies unfolded. The robbery pattern of one per day continued, until late last week when we saw three robberies in one day.  Copy cats? Perhaps.

The Morale of the Story

On Friday April 13th ((Law & Order Noise) the Westbrook police arrested a suspect, a previously convicted felon, tied to the April 6th incident. The arrested man lived on Mechanic Street in Westbrook right in the middle of my red circle.

Upon reading this news I initiated a high-five slap with my wife’s hand, but she kept hers glued to the arm of her chair. Thirty-five years and I’m still trying to impress her. Maybe I should rob a store?

The morale of the story is, crime doesn’t pay and if you’re going to commit a crime realize the police have business mapping tools and easy access to locations-based data like the home locations of previous offenders. I bet their maps were a lot more detailed than mine.

My favorite song about robberies.

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Contact: Geoffrey Ives or Jason Henderson

About Geoffrey Ives

Geoffrey Ives lives and works in southwestern Maine. He grew up in Rockport, MA and graduated from Colby College. Located in Maine since 1986, Geoff joined DeLorme Publishing in the late 1990's and has since logged twenty-five years in the geospatial software industry. In addition to business mapping, he enjoys playing classical & jazz piano, gardening, and taking walks in the Maine mountains with his Yorkshire Terrier named Skye.
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