Combining some old-fashioned detective work with modern cell-phone records tracing, Homer Police at about 8 p.m. Friday arrested a Homer man they said robbed at gunpoint the Grog Shop on Dec. 26.
Michael R. McClendon, 29, was taken without incident near his Main Street home. He’s charged with first-degree robbery, third-degree assault, theft of a firearm, first-degree misconduct involving weapons for felon in possession of a firearm, and tampering with physical evidence.
“The police did a great job,” said Grog Shop owner Mel Strydom. “They really worked hard at it from the beginning. Their perseverance paid off. I hope it’s a deterrent for people trying this again.”
In an affidavit filed by Homer Police Sgt. Lary Kuhns, police said a masked man robbed the Grog Shop at 10:48 p.m. Dec. 26, firing a shot with a weapon into the floor when the clerk didn’t move fast enough, and took $1,100 in cash. The clerk was not physically injured. The robber then ran out of the store. Police identified the suspect as being a man between 6 feet and 6-feet 2-inches.
Police later got a break when they compared a 911 call made about 5 minutes before the robbery with audio and video recordings made at the Grog Shop. According to dispatch records, a man made a 911 call the same night saying he ran off the road near Mile 2 East End Road and that his girlfriend needed an ambulance. The man said his cell phone was dying. Police and Homer Volunteer Fire Department medics went to the scene but could not find a car crash. Police also contacted South Peninsula Hospital, but found no records of anyone seeking emergency treatment. Kuhns wrote that police believed the 911 call had been a decoy call to draw emergency responders out of town and increase response time to the Grog Shop robbery.
Comparing the 911 audio recording and the Grog Shop video and audio recording, Kuhns and Officer Smith said they believed the voices were similar. Through dispatch records, police identified the 911 cell phone number.
Research revealed the number was associated with a TracFone, a brand of prepaid cell phones sometimes known as “burners” because there is no subscriber information required to purchase one.
Police discovered that the suspect cell phone had been used to call a Hoquiam, Wash., phone number belonging to the McClendon family.
Police found two McClendons living in Homer, including a Michael R. McClendon.
Police looked up Michael R. McClendon’s Washington driver’s license information and found it matched the Hoquiam phone number where the suspect cell phone had called. Based on a physical description on the license, police determined McClendon matched the description of the Grog Shop robber.
On Jan. 10, police got a search warrant on McClendon’s cabin. During the search they found a sawed-off .22-caliber rifle and a black mask similar to that worn by the Grog Shop robber. The rifle handle had been shaped into a pistol grip and covered with black electrical tape. That rifle turned out to have been stolen from a Homer man, Robl said.
While police were at the cabin, they saw McClendon walking by the driveway. Police arrested McClendon and read him his Miranda rights. McClendon confessed to the robbery, Kuhns wrote. He said he placed the 911 call as a diversion and that he had shot the rifle into the floor. The rifle police seized was the same one he used, Robl said McClendon told police. McClendon also said he threw away the clothing he wore as well as the TracFone into a dumpster.
Robl said after getting the TracFone cell phone records, police quickly wrapped up the case.
“There was some good, diligent paper chasing on this one,” Robl said. “There was a bit of a delay there, but we put it all together.”
Police said McClendon is a convicted felon out of Washington state on multiple felony offenses for burglary and weapons violations. McClendon is in custody at Wildwood Pretrial Facility in Kenai.
Strydom praised Homer Police for their work on this case as well as earlier Grog Shop thefts.
“This is the third big incident I’ve had in over a year,” Strydom said. “All three perpetrators are in jail. … I’m just very thankful for the work our police department does.”
Strydom said he is reviewing security procedures at the Grog Shop.
If convicted of robbery, because McClendon has a prior felony conviction, he could be sentenced to a minimum of 10 years and up to 20 years if aggravators like shooting at a victim are applied.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.