The combination of a congregation attempting to protect their church from thieves, a scrapyard’s commitment to the rule of law, and cooperation between four law enforcement agencies proved the undoing of six people accused of taking part in a series of metal thefts in three counties over the past two months.
In a joint press conference held in the Grand Jury Room of the Union County Courthouse Friday morning, Union County Sheriff David Taylor, Cherokee County Sheriff Steve Mueller, Pacolet Police Chief Robert Ivey and Lt. M.D. Gabriel of the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office announced the arrest of six individuals — two of whom surrendered to authorities that morning — in connection with a series of thefts of cemetery vases and church air conditioners earlier this month and in April. Of the six, two are facing multiple charges in Union and Cherokee counties and in Pacolet, another three in Cherokee County alone, and the sixth one is charged in Union County alone.
Michael Shane Hill, 33, 990 N. Highway 150, Pacolet, is charged by the Union County Sheriff’s office with two counts of grand larceny, one count of obtaining signature under false pretenses, three counts of transporting stolen non-ferrous metals, and two counts of desecration of human burial grounds. Shane is charged by the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office with four counts of grand larceny and one count of malicious damage to property. He is charged by the Pacolet Police Department with eight counts of obtaining non-ferrous metal unlawfully, one count of malicious injury to a place of worship, seven counts of removal of a memorial marker, and two counts of grand larceny.
Brittany Paige Wright, 19, 4460 Old Pacolet Road, Spartanburg, is charged by the Union County Sheriff’s Office with one count of transporting stolen non-ferrous metal. Wright is charged by the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office with four counts of grand larceny and one count of malicious damage to property. She is charged by the Pacolet Police Department with one count of grand larceny.
James Douglas Upton, 28, 2175 Upton Road, Spartanburg, is charged by the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office with two counts of grand larceny.
Bobby Dean Dimsdale, 57, 123 Lybrand St., Jonesville, is charged by the Union County Sheriff’s Office with one count of receiving stolen goods.
Mueller said that Hill, Wright and Upton were arrested Sunday and are being held in the Cherokee County Detention Center. At the beginning of Friday’s press conference, Mueller announced that two other individuals, Kenneth Ray Davis and Jessica Lynn Davis, 263 Bryant Road, Pacolet, had turned themselves in at the Cherokee County Detention Center that morning. He said the Davises will each be charged by his office with two counts of grand larceny and one count of malicious damage. They are also being held in the Cherokee County Detention Center.
Dimsdale is being held in the Union County Jail.
The six were arrested as a result of separate investigations began by the four law enforcement agencies that ultimately came together as investigators began comparing notes and determined a series of thefts committed in each jurisdiction were related.
In Union County, that process began on April 22 when Taylor said deputies responded to a call at Jonesville Memorial Gardens, 1314 Spartanburg Highway, Jonesville, in reference to the theft of a headstone vase. Taylor said that when deputies arrived at the cemetery they discovered several vases had been stolen. He said that replacing the vases could each cost the families of the deceased anywhere from $200 to $300.
Even though the investigation concerned a theft in Union County, Taylor said information investigators began receiving indicated that the theft was connected to similar ones in Spartanburg and Cherokee counties.
“During the course of the investigation, we began to receive information that neighboring towns were having the same problems and believed that the same persons may be responsible,” Taylor said.
With that in mind, Taylor said his office and Mueller’s office and Ivey’s department began comparing notes and working together to solve what turned out to be a series of crimes committed in both counties and the town.
Mueller said the break in the case occurred May 13 when deputies with his office responded to a burglar alarm at Fairview Baptist Church on Fairview Road in Gaffney. When they arrived, Mueller said deputies discovered the church’s air conditioning unit had been stolen. What they also found was a video surveillance system that provided vital information that led to the first arrests in the case.
“The church had been targeted before in years past, and a like of lot of area churches they are doing additional things to protect their assets,” Mueller said. “They set up a video surveillance on their air conditioning unit and also had it connected to a burglar alarm system.”
While the burglar alarm had summoned deputies to the scene, Mueller said the video surveillance system provided footage of the thieves’ car. Mueller said the description of the vehicle was sent out to deputies on patrol and around 11 p.m. that evening a deputy spotted a vehicle that matched that description. The ensuing traffic stop resulted in the arrest of Hill, Wright and Upton who were charged with stealing the air conditioning unit.
In the days that followed, Mueller said investigators were able to gather evidence linking Hill, Martin, Upton and the Davises to the theft of air conditioning units from four other churches — Battlefield Chapel, New Mount Zion Church, Knuckle Chapel, and White Plains Baptist Church. Mueller said two of the stolen air conditioning units were recovered in Jonesville by deputies with the Union County Sheriff’s Office but by that time they’d been gutted. He said investigators determined that Hill, Martin, Upton and the Davises would initially try to sell the air conditioners intact, but if that failed they would sell them to a scrapyard.
On display at Friday’s press conference were two tables full of pieces of scrap metal that Taylor said had once been cemetery vases. Unlike the air conditioning units, Taylor said the vases could not be sold intact so the suspects broke them up into metal strips to try to disguise their origin and sell them for scrap. In so doing, Taylor said they drastically reduced the value of what they’d stolen.
“All they could have gotten for all this is $11,” Taylor said of the metal strips on display. “That wouldn’t have paid for the gas bill to the recycling facility.”
Their attempt to sell the metal from the vases they’d stolen and then destroyed also helped lead to the arrest of the suspects.
Ivey said Hill attempted to sell metal from the stolen vases to Southeastern Conversions in Spartanburg County, but the staff, recognizing it for what it was, refused to buy it and notified the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office which in turn notified his department. In addition to refusing to buy the metal, Gabriel said the staff retained the paperwork which had been filled out and got a description of Hill’s car, both of which they turned over to his office.
While cooperation between law enforcement agencies was vital to solving the case, Taylor said the cooperation of law-abiding businesses like Southeastern Conversion is indispensable to the ongoing effort to combat the epidemic of metal thefts in the Upstate. In Jonesville, where his deputies discovered the missing vases that enabled his office to do its part in solving the thefts, Taylor said there could be as many as 30 victims, 30 families whose loved one’s final resting place has been disturbed, has been desecrated. He urged the public to check their loves one’s graves and report any thefts and/or acts of vandalism.
In questioning the suspects arrested so far — Taylor said at least three more arrests are expected — Taylor said the suspects indicated that they’d turned to theft to support their drug habits.
“This is a perfect example of what I’ve said is the direct correlation property crimes and drugs,” Taylor said. “These people are going out looking for something to steal every day to support their drug habit and that’s going to keep happening until there’s a crackdown in our courts.”
Given the cost involved of replacing the vases and the air conditioning units, Taylor said the law enforcement agencies will ask the solicitor’s office to seek restitution for the victims. In addition to being required to pay restitution, Taylor said those who commit such crimes should be denied the opportunity to steal by spending a long time in prison.