‘There are potentially hundreds of victims’; Suspect arrested for mail theft following extensive investigation

Stock image taken by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A local man was arrested Thursday after the Washington County Sheriff’s Office conducted a two-month investigation into multiple mail thefts reported in a number of rural communities across the county, including some packages just before Christmas.

Dennis Hugh Murty, Jr., 50, of St. George, booking photo taken in Washington County, Utah, Jan. 16, 2020 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

Dennis Murty, 50, was arrested Thursday and booked on seven class A misdemeanor counts of mail theft and three misdemeanor counts of criminal mischief, charges that have been submitted to the Washington County Attorney’s Office for review.

The arrest stems from an investigation that began in November after police received multiple reports of mail theft that took place in several rural communities throughout Washington County.

Washington County Sheriff’s detectives soon discovered that a majority of the thefts involved cluster mailboxes, which is a delivery system that has up to a dozen individually locked mailboxes and parcel compartments used in cases where a centralized, communal mail delivery system is used for many residences.

According to the reports, a suspect gained access to the mail by damaging the boxes before removing the mail from the box.

In addition to the theft of mail, the boxes were also severely damaged and needed to be repaired before normal mail delivery could resume, and a few of the victims reported very specific items that were allegedly stolen from their individual mail boxes, which were in close proximity to the cluster boxes.

Additionally, the reports did not yield information on how many victims were affected by the thefts, but detectives believe that number could be far higher than was was reported.

“There are potentially hundreds of victims,” the detective noted in the report.

In one instance, detectives arrived to the scene of one reported mail theft where multiple mail items and packages were reportedly taken from the mail box that had been forced open, similar to other reports. Later that same day, a large amount of mail packing was located on the side of the road near the Veyo Pool and Crawdad Canyon resort.

Detectives located and photographed tire tracks left in the mud next to where the packing was found and also located shipping receipts from a number of companies nearby.

Once detectives contacted the individuals listed on the shipping labels, they were able to match the labels to items that were delivered and then taken, some of which were delivered days before Christmas.

One individual told police he went to retrieve a package on Christmas Eve, only to find that his and many others in the cluster box were empty and appeared to have been pried open. He explained to the officers that the package taken was for items not sold locally but ordered from a company on the East Coast. A short time later, officers found an ad on a popular internet site listing the same unique items for sale, and the number of items available for purchase was an exact match to what was reportedly taken from the mailbox.

The site also listed the seller’s telephone number, which came back to the suspect.

While police were conducting surveillance on the suspect’s residence, they found one of the items matching those ordered from the East Coast on the dashboard of a brown Jeep Cherokee in plain view of police. A registration check of the vehicle showed Murty as the registered owner.

Photographs were taken of the Jeep and the outside of the residence, as well as a camping trailer parked on the south side of the home with power connected to the main house. While reviewing the photographs, detectives noticed the tread pattern of the Jeep’s tires matched the pattern left in the mud where the mail packaging was dumped, and a search warrant was obtained for the house and vehicle.

Packages from internet retailers are delivered  in an apartment building mail room in Washington, D.C., April 13, 2018. A St. George man has been accused of stealing several packages from rural residents just before Christmas. | Associated Press file photo by Jessica Gresko, St. George News

During a search of Murty’s residence, officers said they found numerous items matching the description of items from the mailboxes, many of which were unique items not sold locally, as well as multiple other items suspected to be linked to a number of other reported thefts.

Murty was arrested Thursday afternoon and booked into Purgatory Correctional Facility, where he is being held on $15,519 bail.

Additional charges may be filed as the investigation is ongoing.

Anyone with information that may assist in the investigation or may be a victim that has not reported the incident is being asked to call the Washington County Sheriff’s Office at 435-656-6500.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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