Two Franklin County men are charged in connection with an apparent theft ring where more than $113,000 worth of motorized vehicles, a generator, an air compressor, and related equipment had been …
Two Franklin County men are charged in connection with an apparent theft ring where more than $113,000 worth of motorized vehicles, a generator, an air compressor, and related equipment had been stolen, including a motorcycle from the Rosebud area and a utility trailer taken from the Osage County Health Department.
James B. Fowler, Jr., faces four felony counts alleging receiving stolen property, a felony resisting arrest charge, and one count of possession of a rifle with an altered identification number. His “open” bond was set at $20,000. He is also alleged to have fled Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies in an Oct. 31 pursuit while Franklin County deputies were serving a search warrant at his residence on a river lot on Fish Trap Rapids Loop near Robertsville, Mo.
Recovered during the search were a 2022 Kawasaki Teryz UTV (stolen from Jefferson County), a 2016 Harley Davidson motorcycle (stolen from Rosebud), a Suzuki motorcycle with a defaced VIN, a stolen 1996 Club Car golf cart, and an illegally modified 30-06 bolt-action rifle.
The golf cart, according to investigators, was seen being hauled behind a gray Ford F-250 pickup truck pulling a “black enclosed trailer.” The trailer had reportedly been stolen previously from the Osage County Health Department. Inside was a tent valued at several thousand dollars, which was located later at a residence on Melton Lane in St. Clair. A man was arrested, and his identity has not been released pending the filing of formal charges.
A 2021 Honda UTV, a Honda four-wheeler, a generator, an air compressor, and other tools were also reported stolen on Oct. 28 from the 1800 block of North Commercial Avenue in St. Clair, which began the investigation.
Benjamin J. Ellert was charged in a felony warrant alleging theft of a motor vehicle. A cash-only bond was set at $35,000 for Ellert. Two other men believed to be working with Fowler and Ellert are also being sought on felony stealing charges, according to Franklin County Sheriff Steve Pelton.
While deputies were in the Lonedell area investigating Fowler’s connection with these crimes, a 2020 Chevrolet dump truck was stolen in the area. Deputies located the truck within minutes, and the driver had fled into the woods near the 5000 block of Route N, according to a witness.
Deputies checking a nearby residence found an elderly man in a camper trailer who had severe medical conditions. The trailer’s owner gave deputies permission to search the dwelling to perform a well-being check on the renter. Inside, deputies found the man unharmed, but a white male was located hiding in a back bedroom.
He turned out to be the second man wanted in connection with the theft of the black utility trailer stolen previously from the Osage County Health Department. He was interviewed by sheriff’s investigators and released. His name was not being released at this time.
The elderly man did not know the man hiding in his trailer and believes he broke in while he was asleep, according to a release from Pelton.
The witness identified the driver of the stolen truck as Ellert. While continuing their search for Ellert, deputies came across two four-wheelers parked in woods near the 3500 block of Route N. They were seized, and deputies learned they had been stolen not far from where they were located, according to Pelton.
Not long after, Fowler was being chased by a deputy sergeant on foot. Fowler, who was wearing a court-ordered GPS monitoring device due to a bond condition in a felony Jefferson County case, was eventually tracked to Robertsville State Park near the Red Tail Hawk Loop. Another foot pursuit with a K-9 unit and handler took place, and Fowler was found hiding in a creek.
He confessed to possessing the stolen items recovered during the warrant search.
Ellert confessed to stealing the dump truck on Nov. 1 and told investigators he and two others had been working together to commit “various crimes through the County of Franklin,” according to Pelton’s release.
“I don’t think anyone even realized it was gone until they found it,” said Osage County Sheriff Mike Bonham on the theft of the health agency’s trailer. “Apparently, there was a lot of other stolen stuff at the home.”
Bonham said this is an ongoing problem.
“We have people coming into our county committing crimes, and it’s tough for us to identify them without surveillance videos or witnesses,” said Bonham. “These are crimes of opportunity, and criminals are using county lines against us, going from one to another, which makes it difficult.”
The suspect apparently used the trailer to carry the motorcycle he allegedly stole from Rosebud back to Franklin County.
(With reporting by Neal Johnson of the Osage County Unterrified Democrat)