This is Part IV and the conclusion of the story about a routine operating under the influence stop that snowballed into one of the major cases of my career.

In Part I, I wrote about recovering a stolen $3,000 piece of equipment from a business owner who, for years, had been involved in criminal activity without being caught. The tip had come from a man who I stopped on suspicion of OUI.

Part II detailed locating a new four-wheel drive pickup buried in the snow of Northern Maine. It had been stolen from a dealership in New Jersey.

Part III uncovered yet another stolen vehicle and a series of suspicious fires in Greenville.

And here is Part IV.

While working on the arson cases, there were a few torched buildings that didn’t fit with the information we developed. Suddenly, different names were being given to us — names that had nothing to do with the group of drunks from the bar.

A whole other faction was apparently burning down buildings, too. These people — in their teens and early 20s — were vandalizing and setting buildings on fire, reportedly for the fun of it.

Myself and Trooper Barry Delong developed additional information and without too much extra work, we had the second group all tied up and ready to be charged with a series of arsons, as well.

One suspect from this group wanted a deal, which meant he needed to tell all and be cooperative throughout the entire investigation before any consideration would be given to him through the court system.

He had to tell all, and tell all he did.

Along the way, we cleaned up dozens and dozens of unsolved burglaries. Most of them had taken place in the off-season at summer camps. Our suspect took us to each location and told us who did it, what was stolen, where the items were, and when the burglary took place. Sometimes my cruiser wasn’t large enough to fit all the recovered items.

Grand jury was approaching and Trooper Delong and myself put the final touches on the entire investigation. We had worked on the massive case from winter of 1978 until spring of 1980.

When the dust settled, there were 87 misdemeanor and felony cases that received indictments. A total of 23 people were arrested on charges of burglary, theft and arson. We recovered more than $37,000 worth of property during the investigation and solved a number of arsons.

After the indictments, it seemed there might be time to sit back and reflect on what had happened to a major criminal element of Greenville. A few businesses were gone; apparently money was needed to pay attorneys to represent the suspects. Some real bad guys, who had for years gotten away with crimes, were facing major charges in court.

I felt a real sense of accomplishment. A number of townspeople thanked me for going after people who seemed untouchable.

But I learned quickly that things can change even quicker.

One of the suspects — who confessed to his crimes and implicated a couple of the big fish we had gone after — got out of jail and returned to town. It wasn’t long before he realized how drastically the underbelly of Greenville had changed so he decided to leave town and live elsewhere until the whole case blew over.

Then the surprise came. This suspect/witness dropped dead. He was only in his early- to mid-30s. I knew a lot of people wanted a piece of him and I was wary that something fishy had happened.

However, the autopsy indicated the deceased, who had been a heavy drinker, died of natural causes.

It was a major blow to the case.

When news of this man’s death reached C1, it scared him enough to refuse to return to Maine to testify. Thus, several big fish we thought would go to jail for a long time were pretty much off the proverbial hook.

Even though they weren’t convicted of anything, it forever changed their way of life. Their actions had been exposed. It put them out of business and cost them a considerable amount of money.

Everyone else who was arrested was convicted. While the investigation was a huge success, in the end there were disappointments. One thing was for sure, Greenville was forever changed.

Trooper Delong and myself received the Colonel’s Award after the case closed in the court system. Today, the award still hangs in my office.

Just another day in the life.

Mark Nickerson is a retired Maine State Police Trooper. The 28-year veteran lives in Unity. The award-winning columnist may be reached at menick@uninet.net.