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Paper Cup Helps Woodstock Police Nab Bank Robbery Suspect

  • Adam Kniffin



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, January 12, 2017

Woodstock — Gail Dougherty was just trying to do the right thing for the environment.

Instead, she ended up finding what might be a key piece of evidence in the prosecution of a bank robber.

The Woodstock resident had pulled out a sliding trash basket in her home when she noticed something that should have been put in the recycling bin — a paper coffee cup. She pulled it out, took off the lid to make sure no liquid was inside and, instead of coffee, found a crumpled piece of paper.

She unfolded it.

“THIS IS A ROBBERY GIVE ME THE MONEY QUIETLY AND NO ONE WILL GET HURT,” read a note written in black ink.

As it turned out, a note with a very similar message had been used in a robbery at the People’s United Bank near her house on the day she found the cup — Jan. 4, 2016.

Dougherty reported the note to Woodstock police about 90 minutes after 28-year-old Adam Kniffin allegedly handed a People’s United teller a note written in purple ink — on a ripped-in-half Christmas card — before fleeing on foot with about $3,000 cash, according to an affidavit filed last week in Kniffin’s court case in Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction.

A warrant has been issued for his arrest on charges of assault and robbery, grand larceny, larceny from a person and two counts of petty larceny. Kniffin, of Manchester, is now in a New Hampshire jail on a parole violation stemming from a conviction for theft by unauthorized taking.

He doesn’t yet have an attorney in the Vermont case.

Woodstock Police Chief Robbie Blish said Kniffin or an accomplice apparently wrote the note out twice. A practice note, perhaps? Blish said that remains unclear, as does the reason for switching from one color ink to another.

Dougherty told police that her cleaning lady, Heather Wheeler, of Tunbridge, had been working at her Green Street home around the time of the robbery. Dougherty wasn’t home while her house was being cleaned, she told police.

When Dougherty returned home after speaking with police, she found black gloves and a ski mask on a hallway table on the second floor of her home. She told police that the items belonged to her family but she didn’t believe that she or her husband had put them on that table.

Police said the items were similar to clothing worn by the robber, according to the affidavit.

The day after the robbery, police investigated the theft of money and jewelry from the Dougherty residence. On the day of the robbery, Dougherty said, she placed money in two envelopes as Christmas gifts for delivery drivers and left them on a table. When she arrived home, the envelopes were still there, but the money was gone. She also discovered items missing from a jewelry box.

Dougherty said she suspected that the 43-year-old Wheeler and her boyfriend “Adam,” who usually came to Dougherty’s home while Wheeler was cleaning, had taken the money, according to the affidavit.

Attempts to reach Wheeler for comment were unsuccessful.

The investigation that followed turned out to be lengthy.

“Over the course of the past year, alleged suspects were developed and alleged investigative information was obtained and leads were followed up on that led to the Woodstock Police Department investigators being able to submit and have analyzed several pieces of evidence for DNA,” Blish said in a Wednesday afternoon news release about the newly filed case.

In the fall, police obtained handwriting, fingerprint and DNA samples from Kniffin and Wheeler. Those samples were then compared with items found in Dougherty’s house.

Kniffin’s DNA was linked to the stolen money slated for the delivery drivers, and his DNA also was found on the gloves inside the Dougherty home, according to an affidavit.

Samples taken from the coffee cup lid matched Wheeler’s DNA, the affidavit said.

Blish said his department might seek charges against Wheeler.

Dougherty spoke only briefly about the incident, saying “it didn’t feel good” to be taken advantage of. Wheeler had cleaned her home for about 16 years, she said.

Dougherty recalled that when she arrived home on the day of the robbery after being out of town, she noticed police cruisers outside of the bank, and though she was curious, she didn’t think much of it.

Until she found the note.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God, that has something to do with the bank,’ ” Dougherty said. She promptly went to police.

Her commitment to recycling and the environment is appreciated by the Woodstock Police Department.

“I think that was probably the key piece of evidence,” Blish said of the note discovered in the improperly disposed-of cup.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.