South Portland coffee shop 8th armed robbery target

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Police were investigating an eighth armed robbery in eight days Tuesday night, less than eight hours after Westbrook police shared surveillance video of an armed robbery at a Subway restaurant Monday night in hopes someone would recognize the masked thief.

The attempted armed robbery Tuesday night occurred at Aroma Joe’s, a coffee shop at 443 Western Ave., police Sgt. Kevin Gerrish said.

An employee who was working at Aroma Joe’s told News Center Maine (WCSH/WLBZ) that a man wearing a mask and hooded sweatshirt came up to the coffee shop’s drive-through window around 8:30 p.m. and knocked on it with his handgun. She ran to the back of the shop to call South Portland police and the robber fled without getting any cash.

Detective Sgt. Christopher Todd said police arrived at Aroma Joe’s within two minutes of the employee’s 911 call. The robber fled on foot in an unknown direction.

“Luckily, no one was hurt in this incident and the clerk’s quick thinking allowed police to arrive very quickly. At the very least they were able to stop any further violence from occurring,” Todd said.

The suspect is described as a white man, about 5 feet 7 inches tall, with a thin build. He was wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt and the lower half of his face was covered.

The surveillance video footage from Monday’s robbery was released as part of an effort by police from four towns who have been collaborating to solve the string of armed robberies in greater Portland.

In the video, a man enters the Subway sandwich shop dressed head to toe in dark clothing and with his face covered. With his head down, he approaches the counter, draws a black gun and demands cash.

The encounter lasts less than a minute. Before the man leaves the store, the clerk behind the counter places a roll of coins on the counter, but the robber wasn’t interested.

“You can keep that, a tip for yourself, OK?” he said, before leaving the store.

Police hope someone recognizes his movements, mannerisms or voice.

“This one has audio, and we haven’t had that before,” Westbrook Police Capt. Sean Lally said. “If someone knew this person they’d probably recognize the voice. It is a tangible thing we can actually put out there and get some tips generated. It might be a break in the case, or it might be another piece of evidence going forward.”

The robbery at 390 Bridgton Road, also Route 302, was reported about 8:36 p.m. after the lone man entered the store, displayed a black handgun, demanded cash and fled on foot.

He was described in a police statement as a white man wearing a dark-blue hooded sweatshirt and dark pants.

Hours before the seventh robbery, Portland police held a news conference to say they believe there is a connection between the first six robberies and to ask for the public’s help as they investigate the unusual cluster of potentially dangerous crimes.

Police have not definitively said that the six robberies were committed by the same person, but investigators are proceeding as if they may be linked, and have warned the public not to confront the robber. In each case, a man entered a business covered from head to toe, brandished a gun, demanded cash and fled on foot.

“It’s a desperate person who will more than likely continue to do what he’s doing,” Portland police Lt. Robert Martin said during the news conference Monday. “Eventually, something is going to happen and it’s going to be a dangerous situation, an armed encounter between law enforcement and the subject, or some type of encounter between a citizen and the subject. And we don’t want to see that happen.”

The departments are pooling resources and detectives are asking the public to help by scouring private home or business surveillance systems that may have captured images of the robberies showing the suspect and any vehicle that may have been involved.

The robberies were reported in Portland, Westbrook, Falmouth and Cumberland starting March 20. No one has been hurt.

The first robbery occurred at the Riverton Gas Station on Forest Avenue in Portland on the night of March 20. The robber had a silver handgun and was described as a man about 30 years old, 5-foot-5 with a thin build and wearing a heavy dark jacket, dark gloves and a ski mask.

Last Wednesday, Falmouth police searched for a man who flashed a gun at the Lil’ Mart store on Route 1 around 8 p.m., then fled with some cash. He was described as white, wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt, face mask and black gloves. A manager at the store declined to comment Monday.

The next day, a white man robbed the Good Things Variety on Saco Street in Westbrook around 1 p.m. Police unsuccessfully tracked the robber with a dog. He was described as 5-foot-8, with a skinny to medium build and wearing a blue sweatshirt or fleece vest with yellow lettering, a face mask and sunglasses.

The manager of the variety store said Monday that the robber entered the store and waved a gun at him and other employees.

The next day, on Thursday in Cumberland, someone robbed the Irving gas station at 174 Main St. at 8:44 p.m., police said.

The fifth robbery was reported Saturday at the Daily Grind coffee shop in Westbrook, where a man with a gun and a mask robbed the store before 8 a.m.

On Sunday night, a masked man armed with a handgun and bearing a similar description entered the China Taste restaurant on Washington Avenue in Portland and demanded money, but fled before he could take any cash after people came out of the kitchen to see what was going on.

Police are urging store owners and citizens to remain vigilant, and warned against intervening in any ongoing crimes.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or mbyrne@pressherald.com. Twitter: @MattByrnePPH.

A surveillance image posted on Facebook by South Portland police shows the suspect who attempted to rob Aroma Joe’s Tuesday night, March 27, on Western Avenue.

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Editor of The Forecaster; prior reporting/editing gigs at Automotive Age magazine, Daily News of Los Angeles, Biddeford Journal Tribune; Syracuse U. Orange-bleeder; lifelong NY Yankees fan, longtime resident of Red Sox Nation.