WATERTOWN — Matt Northrup and three of his employees wondered why a man was sitting in one of their parked vehicles at the Watertown Appliance and TV Center’s parking lot on Factory Street on Thursday morning.
They called city police when the man acted strangely and then watched him while he walked over to the Urban Mission’s parking lot across the street, Mr. Northrup said.
They later learned that the man was behind a rash of vehicle thefts that occurred on Thursday.
“I’m glad I called the police,” he said. “It’s great to help them.”
John A. Lowden, 34, of 409 Academy St., Apt. 4, now faces a single count of fourth-degree grand larceny and two counts of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. State police also charged Mr. Lowden with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
On Thursday, Mr. Lowden was apparently a busy guy, police said, allegedly stealing four vehicles, including a delivery truck from the Urban Mission at about 11:30 a.m. before ending the crime spree that night. The Urban Mission vehicle was recovered within 45 minutes.
In each of the thefts, the owners left their keys inside the vehicles, Detective Lt. Joseph R. Donoghue Sr. said.
Mr. Lowden took off with one vehicle, dumped it and then found another one with its keys in it before taking the next one, he said.
“Four vehicles in 24 hours,” Detective Donoghue said. ”All keys left in the vehicles.”
The car thefts began early Thursday with a Dodge Nitro that was taken from near the Immaculate Heart Primary School on Winthrop Street, then left several miles away at the Black River Elementary Street on LeRay Street, Detective Donoghue said.
A 1968 Gran Torino was then taken from a nearby residence on LeRay Street, he said. A 2009 Subaru SUV also went missing in the 300 block of Keyes Avenue.
Vehicles were taken or recovered within walking distance within a three-block area near Mr. Lowden’s home on the city’s southeast side.
With his suspicions piqued that morning, Mr. Northrup quickly took a couple of photos from his cell phone that helped police solve the case. He and an employee identified Mr. Lowden from a police mug shot as the same man they saw walk to the Urban Mission.
They were surprised to learn so many vehicles were taken in such a short amount of time.
“It turned out to be really big,” he said.
Mr. Lowden was released on his own recognizance and given an appearance ticket for Watertown City Court. The county’s probation department is keeping tabs on him while the court case progresses.
Police could only charge him with one count of grand larceny — the 2009 Subaru — because it was the only one that they could prove intent and that it deprived its owner of using it, Detective Donoghue said.
A motive for the rash of car thefts is not known. Police continue to investigate.
They also believe that Mr. Lowden might have been involved in four other vehicle thefts that occurred last fall.
Detective Donoghue had a stern warning for people — don’t leave their keys in their unlocked vehicles.