Using investigative technology similar to that featured on television programs such as “CSI,” Bayonne police detectives were able to tie a Bayonne man to the thefts of 24 vans over a 17-month period.
After an investigation lasting nearly two years, police arrested Marcelino Torres, 40, of Bayonne and charged him with stealing 24 minivans during a period from March 2009 to July 2010.
Police Detective Captain Walter Rogers said forensic evidence gathered from several of the vans and processed through the New Jersey State Police Office of Forensic Sciences led to the charges.
The minivan thefts stopped about a month before Torres was sent to a Union County jail in August 2010, Rogers said.
“They were constantly seeking information and evidence, and they never gave up.” – Capt. Walter Rogers
He has been charged with 24 counts of burglary and theft, and one attempted theft of a vehicle.
The three detectives – Timothy Wilgus, Sean McCarry, and Albert Roesinger – from the auto theft unit began investigating the theft of vehicles in early March 2009, Rogers said.
Each of the crimes had similar characteristics. The door lock was usually punched out, and the lock to the ignition was shattered in order to allow the thief to cross-connect wires that ignited the ignition.
Rogers said the lucky break in the investigation came last year in March 2010, when the officers were able to obtain forensic evidence from yet another stolen van, which was sent to the New Jersey State Police Office of Forensic Sciences for analysis and comparison to the state’s database.
“This can take a long time to process,” Rogers said. “This is partly due to the demand for the service from around the state.”
Rogers said since finding the original forensic evidence, the detectives were able to find three more samples.
“It took a while for the lab, but we were able to match four samples that identified the suspect as a Bayonne resident,” Rogers said.
Because Torres was serving time at Rahway State Prison for the theft of a van unrelated to this investigation, his information was submitted into the state’s database, and the lab was able to compare the samples provided by the Bayonne detectives from the four vans.
“It works very well,” Rogers said. “And it has been very successful in solving other cases. But it doesn’t happen the next day. It usually takes from six months to a year after you submit the samples.”
Rogers said the lab reported back to Bayonne last September, linking Torres to four thefts.
The police detectives then noticed another pattern. The stolen vehicles were generally abandoned within blocks of Torres’s former residence in Jersey City, and other places where Torres apparently hung out.
While Rogers said that Torres has not cooperated in the investigation, there seems to be no evidence to suggest Torres used the alleged thefts of vehicles in other crimes.
The three detectives are being nominated for an award for their work on this case, Rogers said.
“These detectives did this through hard work,” Rogers said. “They were constantly seeking information and evidence, and they never gave up. They never stopped looking for clues.”
Bayonne Public Safety Director Jason O'Donnell commended the work of the officers investigating the recent rash of minivan robberies which resulted in an arrest. O'Donnell said the detectives assigned to the case demonstrated superior forensic and investigative skills that helped them put the pieces of the puzzle together and ultimately identify the suspect.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.