A Squamish man believed to be responsible for a series of armed robberies, including four on the North Shore, has been arrested at the Peace Arch border crossing, on a warrant four decades old.
U.S. border officials arrested Thomas John Schwartz, 68, Dec. 15 trying to cross into the United States in a taxicab.
Schwartz was wanted in the U.S. on a warrant dating back to June 1972, when he allegedly deserted from the U.S. Air Force.
That was unusual in itself.
When authorities began investigating Schwartz's background, they discovered he had been living in Squamish under the name Tom Stone. They also discovered Schwartz was wanted by police throughout the Lower Mainland for a series of gunpoint robberies, committed over the past eight months.
"The whole story is fairly unusual," said Const. Brian Montague, spokesman for the Vancouver Police Department. "Until we speak to him, there's a lot of unknowns."
Vancouver police, along with West Vancouver police and the North Vancouver RCMP, issued a public appeal for information Dec. 13, following eight robberies of grocery stores believed to be committed by the same man.
The arrest comes as a relief for all the agencies involved, said Const. Jeff Palmer, a spokesman for the WVPD.
"Everybody was concerned that the pattern of the offences and the level of violence involved was escalating," he said. "Who knows where the next offence would pop up? . . . We're grateful that the appeal for public assistance helped identify a suspect and grateful that
he's in custody."
Incidents started on March 31 last year when a man walked into a West Vancouver Safeway on Marine Drive, pulled out a gun and demanded money. Frightened staff handed over cash and the man fled. In another robbery caught on surveillance video on May 6, a man tried to rob the Queensdale Market in North Vancouver, striking the store manager over the head with a weapon when he was confronted. On May 12, according to court documents, a man approached a customer service clerk at Extra Foods, pulled out a gun and forced the clerk into an office where he got her to hand over $13,000 in cash before fleeing.
Other holdups allegedly committed by Schwartz include the robbery of SuperValu in Edgemont Village in May, of an IGA Marketplace store in Vancouver Oct. 11, and two robberies of Choices markets in Burnaby and Vancouver on Oct. 26 and Nov. 17. A final robbery allegedly happened at the Toys-R-Us store on Brooksbank Ave. Dec. 1.
Two days after police appealed for information, Schwartz tried to cross the border in a taxi. According to U.S. court documents, he told border officials he didn't have a passport but did have a birth certificate and U.S. military discharge papers. When asked where he was going, Schwartz said he was "relocating. He said he had been gone for 40 years and changed his name while in Canada," according to court papers.
According to court documents, Schwartz was a staff sergeant with the U.S. Air Force when he went AWOL and crossed into Canada in June of 1972. He later changed his named to Tom Stone.
An extradition hearing has been scheduled for March.