The flip of a light switch could have changed a burglary into a homicide, says Maine State Trooper Kim Sawyer.
On Monday, August 20, a town employee of Alexander entered the municipal building in the morning to start the work day. The first thing the employee noticed was that the front door was ajar. Sawyer says of the employee, "She wasn't sure what was going on." Moving down the building's hallway, the employee opened an inner door and immediately smelled gas. If she'd flipped the light switch at that point, Alexander Fire Chief Ed Burgess explains that the gas could have ignited and blown up the building. "It's highly flammable. Any sort of spark can set it off." Instead, the employee closed the door and left the building. The fire department and the state police were notified.
When Burgess and the fire department arrived on the scene they found that one of their own acetylene tanks, as well as other fire department equipment, was inside the municipal building. Both the municipal building and the fire station had been broken into. Fire truck side compartments and all of the department's closets and rooms had been gone through. But rather than taking "thousands of dollars worth of equipment," says Burgess, the burglars took the acetylene and oxygen tanks, torch equipment, a fire ax and large pipe wrench in order to break into the municipality's new safe.
Sawyer explains that there was a prior burglary on June 27 when the town building was broken into and the former safe was stolen. "The first time they got away with a good amount of money." The town then installed a new safe that created difficulties for the second burglary. "They torched a hole through the safe," she says of the burglars, but only after first trying to torch the hinges. They had also rummaged through a number of office rooms, but not the rooms that had been rummaged through on the June 27 burglary.
Sawyer believes that the two burglaries "are possibly connected." She adds, "We're looking at all aspects of it," and evidence has been collected from one of the office rooms.
The acetylene tank had a 100-pound capacity. Burgess says, "They left it turned on. It drained out about three‑quarters of the tank" before the employee arrived and smelled the gas. Sawyer notes that the amount of gas drained from the tank allowed Burgess to estimate that the time of the burglary was from very late Sunday night to early Monday morning. Burgess believes that the burglars purposely left the tank on. "Personally, I think it was deliberate. If the building blew up it would remove any evidence."
The Alexander burglaries may be connected to a number of burglaries that stretch from Calais to Topsfield, Sawyer notes. She explains that, from the nature of the burglaries, it looks as though businesses are being checked out ahead of time for access and any alarm systems in place. "We're thinking it may be the same group," she says.
"The good thing that happened out of a lot of bad is that after all that work they probably got under $100, if anything," Sawyer says.
When the selectmen arrived at the office building and were able to look into the bottom of the safe they found a lot of ash -- most likely the result of the heat of the torch on the contents.
Anyone with information about the burglaries is asked to contact the Maine State Police at 1‑800‑432‑7381.