Palo Alto police detectives have searched the Alma Street apartment of the street-robbery suspect arrested Tuesday night, seeking evidence that might link him to up to 18 other strong-arm robberies since June.
"Detectives worked all night" on the investigation, police Agent Dan Ryan said today (Wednesday).
Jeffrey Smith, 38, was arrested Tuesday at 9:10 p.m. on a charge of robbery relating to a purse-snatch robbery in Menlo Park -- following an attempted robbery earlier in Palo Alto in which a witness noted his car's license-plate number.
The arrest resulted from "a lot of good police work and a little bit of luck," Ryan said.
Smith was apprehended at 9:10 p.m. by Palo Alto and Menlo Park police following an attempted purse-snatch robbery in north Palo Alto at 7:20 p.m. and a successful robbery in Menlo Park 25 minutes later.
Both the attempted and actual robberies targeted women walking alone, consistent with numerous earlier reports of the strong-arm robberies, Ryan reported.
There have been 18 street robberies in Palo Alto since June, plus others reported in nearby communities. A pattern in most of the robberies was that women walking alone would be attacked from behind, pushed or knocked down and robbed of their purses.
In the Palo Alto attempted purse-snatch Tuesday evening, a woman was attacked from behind as she was walking home in the 100 block of Bryant Street. The woman screamed as she was being pushed to the ground, while reportedly trying to hold onto her purse, and several neighbors ran outside, scaring the robber off without the woman's purse.
One neighbor saw the man get into an older model tan Toyota Corolla and was able to get a license plate, Ryan said.
At 7:45 p.m. Menlo Park police received a report of a woman, also walking alone, at Oak Grove Avenue and Middlefield Road, being attacked and having her two-tone purse stolen.
Officers from both departments flooded the region looking for the suspect vehicle.
Smith was spotted and stopped at 9:10 p.m. on West Bayshore Road in East Palo Alto, just south of University Avenue, by Acting Sgt. Alex Afanasiev, based on the license plate and vehicle description provided by the witness to the Palo Alto robbery attempt, Ryan said.
He said Afanasiev had gone to the area after running the plate through a police database and finding that the car had been stopped in that area once before. Palo Alto Deputy Chief Dennis Burns and Capt. Mark Venable, just named to head the patrol division, were the first back-up officers on the scene, followed by Menlo Park officers, Ryan said.
Ryan said the purse stolen from the woman at 7:45 p.m. was found in the suspect's vehicle, and the suspect was positively identified by a witness to that robbery.
Ryan said Smith matched the descriptions by witnesses in both Tuesday-evening incidents. In the Palo Alto attempt, the would-be robber was identified as a tall black man wearing a knee-length black coat. In the Menlo park robbery the robber was described as a black male in his 30s wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt and running pants.
Based on the evidence and positive identification in the Menlo Park case, Smith was placed under arrest by Menlo Park police and booked into San Mateo County Main Jail in Redwood City on a charge of robbery.
Ryan said Palo Alto police detectives are investigating possible links to earlier robberies in recent weeks and, depending on the outcome of the investigation, will likely be filing charges in Santa Clara County to be included in a hold warrant.
He said detectives from both departments will be working together investigating potential links to other robberies in the area.