By Julie Manganis
---- — SALEM, Mass. — Women who enjoy walking through the North Shore’s many recreational areas were the target of a Lawrence man who admitted in court yesterday to breaking into their cars to steal the handbags and wallets they’d left locked inside.
Eric Mansfield, 42, was sentenced to five to six years in state prison after pleading guilty yesterday to breaking into five cars parked at Hood’s Pond in Topsfield, Bradley Palmer State Park in Hamilton and Maudslay State Park in Newburyport over a nearly five-month period in 2011.
The sentence was the result of a plea agreement reached between prosecutors Jean Curran and Ashlee Logan and defense lawyer Mark Schmidt, and accepted by Salem Superior Court Judge John Lu.
Under the terms of the deal, a charge of being a common and notorious thief — reflecting Mansfield’s lengthy record of similar crimes — was dropped. Instead, Mansfield pleaded guilty to five counts of breaking and entering, six counts of larceny, and six counts of credit card fraud.
The thefts occurred between April and September of 2011, the first one reported in Newburyport, where two women had locked their purses and wallets in a car while walking at Maudslay State Park. They later discovered that their credit cards had been used, Logan told the judge yesterday.
That was Mansfield’s pattern, prosecutors say. He frequently used the cards very soon after stealing them, often at a gas station. Then, if the cards were still active, he would try for bigger purchases. In the case of the Newburyport women, that meant trips to two nearby Walmart stores on the same day, April 27, where he rang up fraudulent charges of more than $500 at one store, in Plaistow, N.H., and then tried to do the same at the second store in Methuen, where the card was declined.
Surveillance video from the stores was shared with other departments.
But the spree continued; on May 13, a woman noticed a man walking through the woods near Bradley Palmer State Park carrying a child’s backpack, then discovered that her own car had been broken into. Her credit card was later used at a Saugus KMart.
In August, a woman reported that her car was broken into in Hamilton, and the card used at the Topsfield Shell station.
And in September, Topsfield police received a report of a purse being stolen from a car at Hood’s Pond. The owner of the car said her mother had left her purse inside the vehicle and it was gone. In that case, Mansfield also took a GPS and a camera.
Those cards were used at a Mobil station on Route 1 just north of the Ferncroft Rotary.
Nearly all of the stores were able to provide police with surveillance video, and Mansfield was recognized by a Topsfield officer who had dealt with him previously.
Mansfield told Lu that he had been diagnosed in the past with bipolar disorder but also said he does not believe he still has the illness and has not received treatment in four years.
Mansfield received credit for the nearly two years he’s spent in custody awaiting trial. He’ll have to serve a total of at least five years before he is eligible for parole.