In Madison, Persistent Cat Helps Cops Nab Perp

Barbara walked toward the barn. Morgaine pulled toward the garden. Barbara pulled Morgaine toward the barn. Morgaine pulled toward the garden. And then Barbara looked down and saw a patch of white amidst the wildflowers.


Friday afternoon Al Roth decided to go for a walk. Roth, a tenant in the caretaker's cottage behind the historic Deacon John Grave House on the corner of Boston Post Road and Academy Street, wanted to pick up his mail at his post office box, located a little over a quarter-mile away at the U.S. Post Office, located in the center of Madison's restaurant and retail district. 

On the other side of Academy Street from the caretaker's cottage is Academy School, a defunct former elementary school. It is now used once a year for the local library's used book sale fundraiser, which started early Friday morning. From his front door, Al could see the old brick school, which was filling up with book lovers intent on roaming through rooms full of used books stacked on tables and in bins.

Al asked Barbara Flynn, who was visiting Al with her cat Morgaine, whether she wanted to go with him to pick up his mail and maybe do a little shopping on that hot, sunny Friday afternoon. She did. They headed out toward the downtown, which was packed with people picking through bargains on tables outside stores during the annual sidewalk sale days.

Police officers? Firefighters? A pursuit on foot? A boat chase? A police dog? In downtown Madison?

A little less than halfway to the post office, they noticed some activity at Tuxis Pond, behind the Madison Hose Co. No. 1 Firehouse at 655 Boston Post Road. Police officers? Firefighters? Somebody nearby said something about a pursuit on foot through the packed downtown, a boat chase through Tuxis Pond, and a police dog searching for a suspect.

In Madison? Yeah, right.

They finished their walk to the post office, got Al’s mail and started to walk back, stopping to browse and shop on the way home. While she was shopping, Barbara heard people talking about the flurry of police activity, with some people attributing it to a bank robbery (it wasn’t) and others saying it was some poor guy who stole something from Stop & Shop because he needed something to eat (not exactly). Barbara remembers thinking, “why wouldn’t he just go to the [Madison] food pantry?

The man police were looking for was, in fact, suspected of stealing from the Stop & Shop at 128 Samson Road Road in Madison, right behind the Boston Post Road, working with an accomplice. But he was suspected of walking out with more than a meal. The man, allegedly working with a woman, was suspected of walking out with thousands of dollars of goods from the store, over a period of days. Merchants downtown were told that the couple walked out of the store with grocery carts stacked with goods.

Sidewalk sales briefly disrupted as suspect bolts through downtown

The man, when confronted, bolted through the packed downtown. The sidewalk sales were briefly disrupted as police, lights flashing and sirens blaring, arrived on the scene and took pursuit. The bargain hunters looked up, took note, then went back to shopping.

While all of this was happening, right around noon, the horn at Madison Hose Co. No. 1 sounded two blasts. Within minutes, several volunteer firefighters arrived at the firehouse. But instead of pulling up front, like they usually do, the first firefighters to arrive raced around to the back of the firehouse in their pick-up trucks.

The suspect had a swarm of police officers and volunteer firefighters closing in on him from behind. In front of him? Tuxis Pond, its murky waters reportedly populated with snapping turtles and water snakes. The suspect opted to swim for it.

Swimming freestyle at a fast clip

Swimming freestyle at a fast clip, the suspect made rapid progress towards the far shore. As the man swam furiously, a police officer and another man launched a small row boat and took up the pursuit across the water.

The suspect pulled himself ashore somewhere in the vicinity of a residential facility for seniors, The Hearth at Tuxis Pond at 100 Bradley Street, and Brookside Road, a small residential and commercial road off of Wall Street. He disappeared into the swampy vegetation. The police officer in the boat then rowed up and down the far perimeter of the pond, while the firefighters stood by on the near bank of Tuxis Pond, keeping watch from the ground and from the roof of the firehouse.

On the far bank of the pond, Madison Police Chief Jack Drumm took up the search in the overgrown swamp near The Hearth at Tuxis Pond, aided by Sgt. Bryan Baxter and Paco, the two-year-old K9 police assist dog who just completed a round of training about six months ago in tracking, evidence recovery, and bite and hold techniques.

Is this a training exercise or the real deal, some wondered ...

Nearby the area being searched, Madison Police Officer Christopher Sudock kept watch, stationed between the swamp on the edge of Tuxis Pond, and The Hearth at Tuxis Pond, an assisted living facility for seniors. Some of those seniors, in wheel chairs and on oxygen, with their attendants in tow, came and went in a leisurely fashion, wondering aloud whether this was a training exercise or the real deal. A man working on the garden behind The Hearth was asked by police to stay clear of the edge of the swamp.

As the search continued, Madison Police Lt. Bob Stimpson was stationed on Brookside Road, facing a small stream that feeds into Tuxis Pond. Additional police officers searched Bradley Road on foot and adjacent areas by patrol car. Drumm, Baxter, and Paco eventually broke off the search near the pond.

Paco was loaded in the car. Baxter went over to confer with Sudock.

Focus of the search relocates to caretaker's cottage

The focus of the search, later that afternoon, sometime before 4 p.m., was relocated to Academy Street, just outside the front door of Al Roth's caretaker cottage behind the Deacon John Grave House.

The Deacon John Grave House, a saltbox built in the 1680's, was home to several generations of the Grave family for more than 300 years and is now a museum and occasional entertainment venue. The buildings on the property include the main house, which fronts onto the Boston Post Road near the intersection with Route 79; a privy right behind the main house; and the caretaker's cottage on Academy Street, next to several lovely garden plots tended to by the Madison Garden Club. Behind the cottage is a big red barn used for storage that is adjacent to the parking lot of St. Margaret's Roman Catholic Church, on the corner of Academy Street and Bradley Road.

When Al and Barbara got back to the cottage after their walk Friday, they decided it was a perfect day for a glass of iced tea out on the stoop. It was around 4 p.m. Barbara put her cat in a harness and on a tether and they headed outside to do some people watching as the crowds streamed in and out of the used book sale.

A fierce-looking cat who really is sweet

Al and Barbara just sat for a bit with Morgaine, a 17-year-old Maine Coon Cat-mixed breed named after a Celtic priestess famous both from Arthurian legends and a more recent novel called Mists of Avalon. Morgaine the cat looks as fierce as the legendary Morgaine, who was feared by many and suspected of being a witch, but Barbara is quick to assure you that Morgaine the cat really is sweet. 

Just after they settled in to people watch, several police cars screeched up to and through the area. One car came to a stop on Academy Street, almost in front of where Al and Barbara were sitting. Others were stationed in the parking lot of St. Margaret's church, to the right of where Al and Barbara were sitting. Still others, Al and Barbara think, must have been stationed on the Boston Post Road, to the left of where they were sitting.

Al was then startled to see a police officer search the privy at the back of the Deacon John Grave house. Al, who is not the official caretaker, but who nonetheless feels responsible for the house, got up to check the doors and windows of the main house to make sure nobody had broken into the house.

Morgaine pulls towards the garden

Barbara decided to wander over toward a big red barn in back of the Grave house. Morgaine accompanied her, walking next to Barbara on the tether.

But Morgaine wasn’t interested in walking toward the barn.

Morgaine pulled toward a colorful garden brimming with wildflowers in between the caretaker’s cottage and the barn.

Barbara pulled toward the barn.

Morgaine pulled toward the garden.

Barbara picked Morgaine up, saying to her, “no, no, no,’ and walked toward the barn, and walked around the outside of it. Nothing appeared to be disturbed.

Morgaine starts sniffing at one particular area of the garden

Barbara put Morgaine back down and started walking back toward the caretaker’s cottage.

Morgaine pulled toward the garden. Again.

“Fine,” Barbara remembers thinking. They meandered over to the garden. Barbara looked at Morgaine sniffing at one particular area near the center of the garden.

And then Barbara saw what appeared to be a patch of white hidden amidst the flowers in the center of the garden.

"He's in the garden"

“Is it a deer? Is it somebody's shirt?” she wondered.

Then, a split second later, she thought of the suspect at large.

She walked slowly back toward Al, who was now back on the stoop. Silently, she mouthed to Al, “he’s in the garden,” pointing to the spot where Morgaine had been sniffing.

Al walked over to a police car parked near the corner and told the police officer “he’s in the garden.” Al says he thinks the officer may have been Chief Drumm. Al says the police officer double-checked the address of the house with him.

Then, Al and Barbara said, there was a lull of a few minutes, a short time that felt like forever to them.

Weapons drawn, officers descend upon the suspect hidden in the wildflowers

Al then saw the police officer on Academy Street drive his car into the gravel driveway of the Grave House off of Academy Street. The officer got out of his car. At this point, the officer would have been facing the front of the suspect hidden the flowers, as Barbara describes it. Al says it looked like the officer pulled a weapon and started towards the garden. While he was walking, Al said, it looked like the officer switched out the first weapon he pulled to what looked like a Taser, a device that can incapacitate a fleeing suspect with an electroshock.

Al and Barbara saw another officer approach the garden from the front of the Grave House.

“And I’m thinking, did I really see this guy? Or did I imagine it?” Barbara says. She watched the officers close in on the spot where Morgaine had been sniffing.

"He wasn't yelling, just speaking in a very loud and very authoritative voice"

Barbara heard the police officer approach the garden and speak in a loud and authoritative voice, identifying himself as police and ordering the suspect to get up out of his hiding place. "He wasn't yelling, he was just speaking in a very loud and very authoritative voice," she said.

“He walked towards the garden, said he was the police and asked [the suspect in the garden] to stand up,” Al said. “The fellow stood up and then the other officer came and told him to get down and he handcuffed him. Then they walked him away.”

“Very uneventful,” Al says of the actual arrest.

"Amazing to witness"

Then, within about 30 seconds, Al says, officers converged on the spot from what seemed like every direction.

Tucker O'Brien, who saw the arrest and subsequent activity from Academy School, where he was stocking up on books at the book sale, said it was "amazing to witness" how quickly the officers commandeered the suspect and had him on the ground. O'Brien, who had been keeping tabs on the search while running errands around town, quickly grabbed his cell phone camera and started shooting pictures and videos, which he sent to Madison Patch and

Al and Barbara say the officers then walked the suspect over to Academy Street to a police car, where the suspect was frisked. The police then searched his pockets. And then police looked like they were talking with the suspect, Al says.

Al says he is really glad that Morgaine sniffed out the suspect and that police were right there to make the arrest. He said a Madison Garden Club volunteer was due to come sometime after 4 p.m. to tend to the garden plots. "And that just wouldn't have been good," he said.

Some extra treats for Morgaine, and a good story for Al to take to the coffee shop the next morning

Al and Barbara went back to their stoop and their iced tea. Later, they went back inside, where Morgaine was treated to an extra helping of her favorite snacks, tuna flavored Whiskers Lickins. "Yes she did," Barbara said Sunday afternoon, while holding Morgaine and giving her a kiss. "She did a good job."

Al said the incident was interesting and gave credit to the police officers for handling it appropriately.

And the best part, he said, was going to the Madison Coffee Shop in downtown Madison Saturday morning and telling the other regulars all about it.


Editors' note: Police Department Spokesman Joseph Race said around 4:28 p.m. Friday that a man was apprehended near Academy School. Another suspect, a woman, is still at large, Race said. Race said Sunday he spoke Saturday with Al Roth and Barbara Flynn.

Larceny spree at Stop & Shop

Madison police did not provide Madison Patch with any additional information about the incident Friday.

WTNH provided the following account, which was attributed to Madison Police:

A larceny suspect is in police custody following a foot chase, police said. Police say that Zoltan Verillo, 27, and a female suspect have been involved in a larceny spree at Stop & Shop over the past several days. The spree consisted of several thousands of dollars of stolen merchandise. They two suspects were confronted by security personnel on Friday and both immediately fled on foot into the downtown area. Verillo ... is charged with organized retail theft, larceny in the 3rd degree and interfering with police. He is being held on a $10,000 bond.

The New Haven Register, also citing Madison Police, reported that Verillo's address is 11 Manorwood Dr. in Branford, CT. 

The two people had been under surveillance by Stop & Shop security and fled on foot into the Madison Center area when confronted by security workers, police said. Police caught Verillo several hours later following a second foot chase near Academy School, but could not locate the woman, police said.

VIN CIMINO August 01, 2012 at 01:24 PM
Nice piece of police work. It's great that the department now has a police dog....and a stroke of genius that Chief Drumm has created an undercover division cleverly disguised as fierce-looking felines. My understanding is that they are quietly patrolling the entire town. Hats off to Jack, Morgaine, Paco and the entire force for a job well done. And, to Patch, for sharing with us, in the words of the late Paul Harvey, "the rest of the story"!
Valentina DeMayo DaCosta August 02, 2012 at 11:10 AM
Morgaine has a free weekend stay at Captain Kitt's Cat Boarding for her bravery! Call us anytime!! You have a great cat Barbara! www.CaptainKitts.com in Clinton :)


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