John Albert McWhinnie Androscoggin County Jail photo

AUBURN — An Illinois man was behind bars Wednesday, charged with stealing half a dozen cars and trucks across Androscoggin County over the summer.

John Albert McWhinnie, 41, was being held without bail at the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn.

In addition to 11 criminal charges locally, McWhinnie also faces extradition to Illinois, where he was listed as armed and dangerous and wanted on parole violations.

Before police surrounded a Livermore Falls home and arrested McWhinnie last week, investigators had pursued him in various ways, including a vehicle chase along Route 4 and a foot chase through a swamp.

At one point, McWhinnie was punched in the face by a man who interrupted a vehicle burglary, leading to drops of blood that helped police close in on their suspect. Investigators were also aided by tips that emerged on Facebook and by a pair of stickers — “Moo” and “Bad Kitty” — in a rear window of a purloined truck.

The drama began Aug. 21 when a sergeant with the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office was sent to Barker Farms on Barker Road in Leeds for a report of a truck that had been stolen overnight. The truck had been parked in a driveway, according to court documents, unlocked and with the keys in the ignition.

When Androscoggin County Detective Nathan P. McNally joined the investigation, he noted similarities between the Leeds theft and several others that had occurred in Androscoggin County over the past month and a half.

Each of the stolen vehicles had been left unlocked and with keys in the ignition, McNally wrote. Four of the vehicles had been either stolen from or abandoned near Meadowbrook Apartments, off Moose Hill Road in Livermore Falls.

The first vehicle stolen during the spree was taken July 30 from Bailey Brothers Ford on Park Street in Livermore Falls, according to the affidavit. It was found abandoned later in the day on Moose Hill Road, near the apartment complex.

A second truck was reported stolen July 28 from Heritage Lane. On July 31, Deputy Matthew Noyes responded to a report of an erratic driver in Turner and spotted the stolen truck, a black Ford F-150, leaving the Hannaford supermarket and turning onto Snell Hill Road.

A short time later, a man who lives on Snell Hill Road called police to report finding a black pickup truck abandoned on his lawn and that his wife’s Kia Sorento had been stolen.

The registration on the truck had been swapped out, police said. The stolen truck bore plates that had been lifted from a similar vehicle, owned by a Sabattus man, which had been left at Rowe Ford in Auburn to have work done.

About the same time police were responding to the pickup truck on the lawn, another Snell Hill Road man, 68, flagged down a police officer to report he had caught a man breaking into his vehicle and that he had punched that man in the face. He told police the suspect had fled with a coat and a cellphone from that vehicle.

Androscoggin County Sgt. Jon Guay was responding to this report when he spotted the stolen Kia on Route 4 in Turner. A short chase ensued, but the driver of the stolen Kia drove behind the former NAPA Auto Parts store on Route 4 and fled on foot into a swamp.

Police were unable to find the suspect, even with the help of tracking dogs. Inside the abandoned Kia, police found a tablet, a backpack and a jacket. They also found several drops of dried blood, which were entered into evidence.

On Aug. 18, Livermore Falls police went to Moose Hill Road for a report that a 2013 Chevrolet truck had been stolen. As with the other thefts, police said, the keys had been left in the ignition. On the same day, a Maine State Police trooper went to Orchard Way in Turner for a report of a stolen Kia Optima. While there, the trooper found the stolen Chevrolet with no one inside.

The Kia was found later the same day near Meadowbrook Apartments.

On Aug. 21, McNally went back to Livermore Falls to look for a truck stolen from Leeds earlier in the day. When he spotted a truck in the lot of Bailey Brothers with “Moo” and “Bad Kitty” stickers in the rear window, he knew he had found the latest stolen vehicle.

The man from whom that truck had been stolen, meanwhile, had a 28-year-old son who had posted information about the theft on Facebook. As a result of that post, the family learned a man named John Albert McWhinnie had been partying at a sand pit near their farm on the night the truck was stolen.

McNally went to Facebook and pulled up McWhinnie’s page, where he learned the suspect was from Boston, had attended Lake Land College in Mattoon, Illinois, and that police in that state considered McWhinnie a fugitive from justice.

According to court documents, McWhinnie was wanted for violating parole stemming from charges of theft, aggravated fleeing and obstructing police.

“There was a caution listed on the warrant that he was armed and dangerous,” McNally wrote in an affidavit.

Police then learned McWhinnie had been staying with friends at Meadowbrook Apartments. On Aug. 21, Androscoggin County Sheriff’s deputies were joined by Livermore Falls police as they surrounded the apartment house and knocked on the door to the apartment where McWhinnie had been staying.

Another man opened the door, police said, but he quickly admitted McWhinnie was in an upstairs bedroom. When police went to that room, they found it empty, although the television was on. At the same time, they heard officers outside yelling, “Show me your hands!”

Shirtless and shoeless, McWhinnie had tried to escape through a basement door, police said. But he was quickly captured, handcuffed and taken in for questioning.

Police said McWhinnie readily confessed to stealing several cars and trucks, and was able to provide details about each theft.

According to the affidavit, police learned that McWhinnie had been staying at Meadowbrook Apartments since June, and that he would occasionally work at a chicken farm.

McWhinnie also told police that after he was chased into the swamp by deputies in late July, he hid in a ditch until morning before walking out of the woods.

On Wednesday, McWhinnie made an appearance in Lewiston District Court, where he was charged with six counts of theft by unauthorized use of property and two counts of theft by unauthorized taking. He also faces charges of vehicle burglary, refusing to submit to arrest and driving without a license.

On those charges, McWhinnie’s bail was set at $50,000 cash. However, because he is considered a fugitive, McWhinnie was ordered held without bail on the charges out of Illinois.

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