UPDATE: The suspect has been identified as Marvin Turner. He was operating under the alias of James Quarrels. No formal arrests have been made as he is already in custody for an unrelated incident.
A series of thefts in houses of worship and vacant buildings in one Germantown pocket over the past several weeks has some residents on edge.
Posting about the crimes on various social-media soundboards, residents on a West Central Germantown Neighbors listserv began noticing a connection after repeated mention of similar incidents surfaced.
Those posts noted that, in the span of approximately two months, the following properties have experienced criminal activity of some form: the Mennonite Meeting House (21 W. Washington Lane); Settlement Music School (6128 Germantown Ave.); First United Methodist Church of Germantown (6001 Germantown Ave.); Center in the Park (5818 Germantown Ave.) and St. Michael’s Lutheran Church (6671 Germantown Ave.)
“These listservs act as a kind of digital grapevine for West Central Germantown Neighbors,” said Robert Seeley, a longtime resident of Germantown.
What police are saying
Capt. John Fleming of the 14th Police District confirmed to NewsWorks that some — though not all — of the mentioned properties have been involved in an ongoing investigation.
“It was not difficult to see a pattern emerging right in front of us,” Fleming said.
According to Fleming, the crimes involved the theft of copper from the buildings’ cooling systems. After stripping the copper, thieves have been known to sell it off to local salvage companies.
“I believe the incidents were less about the churches themselves, and more about their huge external cooling systems,” said Fleming. “You can make decent money from that copper.”
Fleming assigned the case to Officers Mike Branfield and Ed Solvibile who think they have identified the suspect.
“This was a job of pounding the pavement a little bit,” Fleming said, noting that all the involved parties have cooperated and the District Attorney is currently working with Northwest Detectives.