Mother Nature joins forces with detectives Police follow tracks in weekend snowfall


Police investigating weekend crimes got a little help from Mother Nature when they looked for clues the old-fashioned way -- by following footprints in the snow.

In Cecil County, state police tracked a suspected arsonist from the scene of a fire to his front door.

In Anne Arundel County, police tracked a burglary suspect from a broken shop window to a Pasadena shopping center.

Anne Arundel County police said officers responding to an alarm at Jason's Music Center in the 8200 block of Ritchie Highway at 9:30 p.m. Saturday found a window broken and a set of footprints in the newly fallen snow.

Officers James Meyers and Edward Anthony followed the tracks about a mile to Festival Plaza in Pasadena. Ralph H. Hairfield, 30, of the 7800 block of Shirley Court, Pasadena, was charged with theft and breaking and entering after he was found carrying the exact amount of cash -- $106.65 -- missing from the store.

He was being held yesterday on $10,000 bond.

State police at Northeast said troopers were called to the Cecil County Activity Center on Pulaski Highway near Elkton at 3:30 a.m. yesterday because investigators determined that a fire at the center had been set.

Police said that two of the senior citizen center's buildings had been broken into and that tools worth more than $300 were missing. An estimated $2,000 in damage was done to one building, and a smaller storage building had been burned to the ground.

Police said a search of the grounds led to footprints in the fresh snow.

They followed the prints through some woods to a trailer park about a half-mile away along Route 7.

There also were tracks in the snow from a heavy, car-lifting jack that had been stolen from the center.

At the end of the tracks was the home of Michael Keplinger, 29, of Elkton, police said.

Police said they found found both the jack and some of his clothes, which had been splattered with paint thinner allegedly used to set the fire, at the house.

"It was like he had just walked through the woods, dragging this floor jack, not thinking anybody would follow his tracks," a state police spokesman said. "We didn't need the dogs or anything on this one."

Mr. Keplinger was charged with arson, breaking and entering, theft of more than $300 and malicious destruction of property. He was being held yesterday on $250,000 bond.

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