By Jo-Anne MacKenzie
---- — Police in at least four Southern New Hampshire towns hope a couple of arrests this week will mean an end to a recent spike in residential burglaries.
Derry police arrested Bonnie Usher, 46, of Derry Wednesday and charged her with burglary, attempted burglary, theft by deception and receiving stolen property.
Police in Londonderry, Auburn and Salem are looking at Usher as a potential suspect in burglaries in their towns.
On Thursday night, the Southern New Hampshire Special Operations Unit executed a search warrant at 4 North Main St. in Salem.
Police believe Usher may have been trading stolen jewelry for narcotics at the Salem home, Deputy police Chief Shawn Patten said yesterday.
The SOU team was called in because police believed there were numerous people, weapons and several dogs in the residence, Patten said. One of the dogs was described as potentially aggressive.
Police closed down a section of Main and North Main streets for about 20 minutes around 8 p.m. Thursday while officers secured the house, he said.
Police recovered thousands of dollars of stolen jewelry and a “significant” amount of heroin, Patten said.
Rita Cooper, 48, was arrested and charged with two felonies, receiving stolen property and possession of a controlled drug with intent to distribute.
“No firearms were seized,” Patten said. “They were legally owned by others in the residence. Guns were not included in the search warrant.”
Yesterday, police were just beginning to catalog the thousands of dollars worth of jewelry, which included a Rolex watch, he said.
“It appears the house was being run as an illegal fencing operation,” Patten said.
He described the amount of heroin as “several fingers” and said police also found assorted drug paraphernalia in the home. A finger is a street measurement for heroin, which can run from 5 to 10 grams.
The house, a modest, vinyl-sided ranch, is owned by the Crawford Living Trust, according to town assessing records. It sits back from the street behind an auto repair shop.
Patten said police had no problem with dogs and Cooper was arrested without incident. She was booked and released on $10,000 personal recognizance.
“The investigation is active and ongoing, with the potential for more arrests and charges,” Patten said.
But Usher may be the key to solving as many as several dozen burglaries in the region.
Patten said his town has seen a spike in residential burglaries in recent months and Usher is a suspect in that town.
Her arrest by Derry police led to the search warrant in Salem.
Derry police Capt. Vern Thomas said his town has seen more than a dozen burglaries over the past month and a half, burglaries in which cash and jewelry were taken.
Usher is the suspect in a burglary on Dustin Avenue Jan. 2. The homeowner found a back door forced in and jewelry missing. The jewelry — gold earrings, necklaces, watches and bracelets — turned up at Cash for Gold this week. Usher had pawned the jewelry for a total of $100, according to court records. That incident resulted in the charges of theft by deception and receiving stolen property.
On Wednesday, two Derry detectives had Usher under surveillance, according to affidavits filed in 10th Circuit Court in Derry.
Detectives Benjamin Doyle and Christopher Talbot were watching Usher and saw her pull into a driveway on Dexter Street twice Wednesday morning.
Neighbors on Dexter Avenue told police they had seen a woman matching Usher’s description prowling around a house. She left when confronted by a neighbor, Thomas said.
The detectives followed Usher to Kingsbury Street, where they watched her come out of a house about eight minutes after she approached the door.
Police pulled Usher’s vehicle over and took her into custody on the warrants for the earlier burglary. They found items stolen from the Kingsbury Street residence in her car. While Usher was being booked on burglary charges, she admitted the items had been stolen from Kingsbury Street, according to a court affidavit.
She was arraigned Thursday and is being held on $15,000 cash bail. Usher is scheduled for a probable cause hearing next Thursday.
Many more charges could be coming, including more in Derry.
“We’re exploring her connection to other burglaries in Derry,” Thomas said.
They’re not alone.
“She has been interviewed for at least three burglaries that took place between fall and early winter,” Londonderry Detective Christopher Olson said yesterday. “It’s an active investigation and she’s absolutely a suspect.”
He said there were more burglaries in that general area of Londonderry within the same time period.
“We anticipate being able to link her to several burglaries in town,” Olson said.
It’s the same story in nearby Auburn, a small town that doesn’t usually see much crime.
But it’s been a different story in recent weeks, according to Auburn police Sgt. Chip Chabot.
“We’ve had a huge spike in burglaries and attempted burglaries,” Chabot said yesterday. “Twelve in a year is a lot for us, but from Dec. 1 to today, we’ve had 10 burglaries. (Usher) is a suspect in several of our burglaries.”
He said jewelry appeared to be the target of the burglaries in Auburn. Police there had not yet seen the evidence taken in the Salem search.
“It’s very concerning for us, we’re a small town with a very active Neighborhood Watch group,” Chabot said. “It’s disheartening to have 10 burglaries.”
Area police departments will soon have the opportunity to examine the jewelry seized in the search at Cooper’s home, Patten said.
“Once we get everything catalogued and evidenced, we’ll reach out to all the cities and towns were burglaries have occurred and try to return the items to their owners,” he said.
He said police believe people were bringing stolen jewelry to Cooper to avoid dealing with pawnshops.
“In Salem in particular, we have over 20 pawnshops,” Patten said. “They are heavily regulated and monitored, so someone hoping to avoid that monitoring would certainly find this method of business appealing. We’re hoping it’s not widespread.”