Purse snatchers found thanks to combined effort

CALCUTTA – Through a collaborative effort between several law enforcement agencies, four people were arrested Monday in connection with a purse snatching that occurred Sunday in the Walmart parking lot.

Charged by St. Clair Township police with robbery were Frank J. Flaherty, 38, 1604 Shadyside Avenue, his daughter, Brianne M. Flaherty, 19, 14160 Birch Road, and David J. Mathes, 22, also of the Birch Road address.

Gloria Flaherty, 39, of the Shadyside Avenue address, was charged by Liverpool Township police with obstructing official business.

The saga began Sunday morning when Edna Geer, 85, New Cumberland, W.Va., left the Walmart store and was preparing to load purchases into her vehicle when a man, identified Monday as Flaherty, allegedly grabbed her shopping cart and pulled it toward him.

Although Geer tried to grab her purse from the cart, Flaherty reportedly ripped it from her grasp and entered a Ford Taurus, which fled the scene.

Police viewed surveillance video of the store’s interior which indicated Flaherty and another man and woman – now identified as Brianne Flaherty and Mathes – had followed Geer around the store.

Investigation indicated Mathes was driving the vehicle and Brianne Flaherty was in the front passenger seat when Frank Flaherty took the purse and jumped into the vehicle, according to police.

Geer, a local realtor, was not injured in the incident, and according to information released Monday, had actually met Brianne Flaherty briefly during the summer.

She told officers that while at work in her East Liverpool office, Ms. Flaherty asked for – and was given – a ride to the Ogden and Lincoln streets area. Later, Geer mentioned this to her granddaughter, who she said cautioned her not to help Flaherty again because she uses drugs.

After Sunday’s incident, a photo of the three suspects was published on Facebook, and calls began coming into the police station identifying them. The photograph was also published in the newspaper Monday morning.

On Monday, St. Clair Detective Sgt. Brian McKenzie received a call from Leetonia police Chief John Soldano, informing him that a manager at the Mitsubishi plant in the village had called his department to say he believed one of the suspects pictured in the newspaper worked at the plant.

McKenzie spoke with the manager, Brian Councell, who said several employees had advised him another employee, Mathes, had been involved in a crime in the township.

Councell also told McKenzie that Mathes drives a vehicle matching the description of the vehicle allegedly used in the robbery and it was in the parking lot at that time.

According to township police Chief Don Hyatt, a warrant for robbery was issued for Mathes’ arrest, and Hyatt, McKenzie, Detective Troy Walker, Leetonia police officers and the sheriff’s department’s K-9 team went to the Leetonia plant, where Mathes was taken into custody without incident.

“The plant was very cooperative with us,” Hyatt said.

Hyatt said Mathes confessed to having been involved in the crime, saying, “The information he gave us matched what we already knew.”

Through speaking with Mathes, police determined the Flahertys were “holed up” in a trailer on Shadyside Avenue in Liverpool Township, and officers headed to that location, where they said no one would answer the door, although movement and noise could be heard inside.

At that point, the township department enlisted the help of the U.S. marshal’s office, which sent 11 agents immediately to Calcutta, where they were briefed before heading out to the Shadyside Avenue address.

“They are phenomenal,” Hyatt said of the marshal’s office, saying the other suspects opened the door and came out when they saw the place surrounded by officers.

Gloria Flaherty, whom Hyatt identified as Frank Flaherty’s wife, was charged by township police with obstructing for allegedly harboring the suspects at her trailer.

“It was a real family affair,” Hyatt mused, adding that the investigation and subsequent arrests “all came together nicely” due to the cooperation of the various law enforcement agencies and the response received from concerned citizens.

Hyatt said that, due to past incidents involving some of the suspects, he and other officers are confident that this incident revolved around the need for money to obtain drugs. Geer had cash in her purse along with bank books and a credit card, none of which had been recovered as of Monday.

All four suspects were transported by township police officers to the county jail where they were being held until arraignment, which Hyatt said should take place today in East Liverpool Municipal Court.