Officials with the Vilonia Police Department confirmed Friday that suspected purse bandit Nowell Whitehouse of Conway is being held in Arizona’s now-infamous "Tent City" jail.
Whitehouse, 31, is a prime suspect in a series of thefts from teachers’ purses at Mesa Elementary School in Arizona. Brad McNew, Vilonia Police Chief, said Whitehouse is charged with similar crimes in Arkansas.
Whitehouse allegedly stole teachers’ credit cards and bank cards, authorities said.
"He (Whitehouse) has signed extradition papers but I don’t think they are going to let him go for a while from Arizona," McNew said. "I think they have nine theft and forgery charges against him and they may come up with more."
McNew said police linked Whitehouse to Arkansas through an article in the Log Cabin Democrat. The story said that Vilonia and Greenbrier police were searching for Whitehouse in connection with thefts from local school campuses.
"Law enforcement in Arizona went on the Internet, entered his (Whitehouse’s) name and the story popped up," McNew said.
Whitehouse was in jail as a suspect in a Scotsdale, Ariz., trespassing case when he was charged in the school crimes, McNew said.
According to McNew, law enforcement agents staked out a motel room where Whitehouse had been staying before they realized he was already in jail.
The initial Arizona thefts may have occurred in December, authorities said. A teacher reported four credit and debit cards missing from her purse after she returned from recess.
The Vilonia theft took place about 4:30 p.m. Feb. 9 at the office of Teri Chandler, elementary school counselor.
Chandler had stepped away from her office momentarily, leaving it unlocked. When she returned minutes later, she encountered a man leaving her office and she spoke briefly with him. The suspect, later identified as Whitehouse, reportedly told Chandler he was looking for someone to give him directions to the gymnasium. Chandler then discovered her driver’s license, cash and credit cards missing from her purse. The police, credit card companies and bank were alerted immediately.
Chandler, as well as others, reported seeing a "sea-foam green" Jaguar leaving the campus. Authorities believe Whitehouse was driving that vehicle.
Greenbrier police have named Whitehouse as a suspect in an elementary school theft there.