By Mark E. Vogler
---- — HAVERHILL — Haverhill police detectives arrested two women in connection with a recent spree of armed robbery attempts that targeted elderly people who were out shopping.
The arrests were the culmination of an intensive investigation launched a week ago after six victims — all of them older than 65 — reported being approached by a blond woman who claimed to be homeless with children and asked for money. The woman pulled out a kitchen knife and threatened to stab them if they refused. Only one of the victims complied with the robber’s orders
Haverhill police Lt. Robert Pistone said detectives were so incensed by the nature of the crime — “elderly victims being preyed upon” — that they worked long and hard hours to solve the crime.
“The elderly citizens of Haverhill deserve to live in peace and feel safe in their community and the Haverhill Police Department will always commit 100 percent to making sure our vulnerable populations are protected,” Pistone said last night.
“I am extremely proud of the hard work of the patrol force for their initial response to the victims and all the hard work and dedication the Detective Bureau put into identifying these suspects, and finally apprehending them which will hopefully bring some peace to the victims knowing that these predators have been arrested,” he said.
Pistone credited the victims’ descriptions of an older model Subaru station wagon with New Hampshire plates and the knife-wielding woman with leading to yesterday morning’s arrests. Detective Glenn Fogarty located the suspected car travelling on Laurel Ave Bradford with two female occupants shortly before noon yesterday.
Michelle Legault, 35, of Barrington N.H., with armed robbery, four counts of armed assault with intent to rob a person over the age of 65, attempted larceny from a person and sexual conduct for a fee.
Lisa Wallace, 46, of Bradford, with accessory before the fact, attempted larceny from a person, conspiracy to commit armed robbery, four counts conspiracy to commit armed assault with intent to rob a person over the age of 65, unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and deriving support from prostitution.
Both women were being held last night without bail at the Haverhill police station, pending their arraignment today in Haverhill District Court.
Pistone called it “an atrocious crime” that was fueled by the suspects’ drug dependency and their desperation to get money to support their heroin habits.
“It appears that the two suspects conspired to deliberately target elderly people at the shopping plazas because they thought they would not fight back making easy targets and that they would have money on them for shopping,” Pistone said.
“All of the victims, despite their ages, were extremely alert and were able to provide the police with excellent descriptions. They were also able to remain poised and yell for help or try and get away, however the after effects for some of these suspects has left some of them traumatized and in fear,” he said.
Pistone said it was Wallace’s idea to go to major shopping areas in the city to rob the elderly. She owned the car and was familiar with the local shopping areas.
“She figured they wouldn’t fight back and would have money on them,” he said.
The crimes took place at the Westgate Shopping Plaza on Lowell Ave and Central Plaza 2 Water St. last week. One of the crimes occurred as an attempted purse snatching at Westgate on June 11. The other five occurred on June 12 at the Central Plaza shopping lot.
From the victims’ description of Legault, the alleged knife-wielding woman with the pulled-back blonde air and other leads, Detective Carl Rogers developed a suspect in the case over the past few days.
One of the witnesses was an 87-year-old man who fought to keep his wallet from being picked from his pants as he tried to get away.
“He was holding the wallet in his back pocket (at) the same time he was fending her off with his cane. He managed to get away,” Pistone said.
While interviewing the suspects yesterday, detectives learned of other crimes — Wallace was setting up her friend as a prostitute so they could get money for drugs, Pistone said.
“We’re seeing a lot of people committing desperate crimes because they are dope-sick, and we’re seeing that more and more,” Pistone said.