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Residents of Witless Bay say they know who’s behind thefts in the area, but police aren’t doing enough

The burnt carcass of a boat in Witless Bay, allegedly owned by accused kidnapper Stephen Maloney.
The burnt carcass of a boat in Witless Bay, allegedly owned by accused kidnapper Stephen Maloney. - David Maher

The only thing growing faster than the population of Witless Bay is frustration and fear.

Residents in the town are frustrated the culprits behind a long-running rash of thefts of everything from power tools to all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to cars have not yet been brought to justice.

Some are buying new locks for their sheds, garages and homes, for fear they could be next.

The emotions boiled over earlier this month when Witless Bay residents Stephen Maloney, 55, and his son, Mitchell Maloney, 23, allegedly kidnapped and assaulted another 23-year-old man.

Approximately 200 residents came together over the weekend to show support for the Maloneys, though they were careful not to condone the acts of violence the men are accused of.

The pair were released on bail on Tuesday. They’re due back in court next month.

People in the town suspect the victim of the attacks has been involved in a stretch of crime in the 1,600-person town on the province’s Irish Loop, though no evidence has been formally brought forth to corroborate the claims.

Residents estimate in the last five years, between 20 and 30 ATVs have been stolen, countless tools have been taken from sheds and garages, three cars have been stolen from driveways and set ablaze, and one boat has been set alight, in the early morning hours of Sept. 15 while it sat at the dock in the town.

Multiple people who spoke with The Telegram said the burnt boat belonged to Stephen Maloney.

On Sept. 7, a blue 1978 Pontiac Grand Prix was stolen in the town, and was found torched on the Witless Bay Line on Oct. 1.

It’s not just residents: Newfoundland Power isn’t immune from theft.

In an email, a spokesperson for the utility says that in early June, thieves cut a hole in a chain-link fence at the substation in nearby Mobile and took off with an ATV. Police were informed, but the quad has yet to be located, and an arrest has yet to be made.

Residents who spoke with The Telegram say it’s an open secret in the town that a group of people are behind the thefts, not just one person.

“Everybody knows who it is,” said one man, who had about $500 worth of tools stolen from his shed in May.

“It’s high time somebody did something.”

The man requested anonymity, for fear of retribution from those involved in the thefts.

Residents are frustrated that no arrests have been made in connection with the thefts.

“When I reported it, the Mountie came up by the door. When he was leaving, he said, ‘Let me know if you hear anything.’ I said, ‘Jeez, that’s your job,’” said the man.

“They’re not doing enough.”

Residents of Witless Bay say they’re frustrated with ongoing thefts in the town, though police report a decline in crime in the area.
Residents of Witless Bay say they’re frustrated with ongoing thefts in the town, though police report a decline in crime in the area.

Another man, who also asked to remain anonymous, said he always kept one iron bar across his downstairs doorway to keep thieves out.

The day before the theft, he went out for a drive on his four-wheeler to visit his family and have a supper of fresh cod. He arrived home late and hurried off to bed.

“The next morning, a lovely morning in August, I said, I’ll go for a run now. I went down, across the lawn, and I noticed the door was open about a foot. Just a little breeze going through. I knew right off the bat,” he said.

He bought the four-wheeler in June. The ATV had 90 days of insurance. On the 95th day, the ATV was stolen. He has yet to hear back from police, but he got a call from a friend on Wednesday. He’s buying a new quad, and installing more iron bars.

“To know someone is in your house prowling around while you’re asleep, that’s…” the man trailed off.

The trouble is, in order to track down the stolen vehicles police would have to search through the surrounding forest to find the abandoned ATVs in order to match serial numbers.

The nearby Avalon Wilderness Reserve stretches for 1,070 square kilometres.

None of the people who spoke with The Telegram on Wednesday had been reunited with any of their lost possessions.

“There’s an increase. The fellas are at it all the time,” he said.

But the feelings of fear in the town are contradicted by data released by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) on Wednesday.

According to the RCMP, the Ferryland detachment sees about half the provincial average of crime annually.

In 2017, there were a total of 31 confirmed break and enters in the detachment, down from 86 in 2015.

There were 54 thefts under $5000 in 2017, down from 87 in 2015.

Thefts over $5,000, on the other hand, have remained fairly consistent: 14 in 2015, just three in 2016, and 14 in 2017.

But the residents who spoke with The Telegram want more from local law enforcement.

In a statement, the RCMP said they’re doing their best to respond to the concerns in the area.
“We have heard concerns about property crimes — in particular, residential and business break and enters and thefts — and we understand that any crime will cause concern for the community,” the RCMP stated.

“We want residents to know we take every complaint very seriously and investigate all crimes thoroughly. We also can make adjustments in response to any patterns we see with these types of crimes, such as adjusting our shift schedules or presence of marked vehicles in areas of concern.”

As the investigations into the thefts continue, it’s little comfort for one resident, worried about what he will or won’t find in his garage when he wakes up in the morning.

“The doors to the house are locked every night. At one time, they weren’t,” he said.

Twitter: DavidMaherNL

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