The North Shore man who is wanted in connection with a Peabody double murder and a Middleton carjacking made it 900 miles to South Carolina, where an arrest for panhandling at a busy intersection Friday afternoon led local deputies to discover his identity, law enforcement officials said.
Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office investigators spotted 39-year-old Wes Doughty at 3:25 p.m. near a McDonald’s and a Waffle House along Highway 9 in Boiling Springs, S.C., and arrested him for soliciting. When they ran his name through a national crime database, they learned he was wanted in the murders and carjacking and contacted Massachusetts authorities, according to the sheriff’s office.
Doughty will be arraigned Monday in South Carolina on a fugitive-from-justice charge. If he waives rendition, he will be returned to Massachusetts within the week, said Carrie Kimball-Monahan, a spokeswoman for the Essex district attorney’s office.
Ken Metz, the 64-year-old grandfather whom Doughty allegedly abducted at knifepoint in Metz’s 2006 Honda Accord outside a Middleton restaurant Wednesday evening, said he was reassured to know Doughty was in custody.
“It’s kind of a relief,” Metz said by phone, minutes after the Middleton police visited him in person to inform him of Doughty’s capture.
Massachusetts officials initially released few details, but Peabody’s police chief and mayor said they were “anxious to assure the public that Mr. Doughty is in custody,” in a joint statement issued Friday afternoon through the Essex district attorney’s office.
Doughty allegedly tied Metz up with a seat belt Wednesday and took him on a meandering course from the parking lot of Hailey’s Restaurant and Pub to Boston. When Doughty stopped at a Tremont Street liquor store, Metz made his escape.
During that three-hour ordeal, Metz said, Doughty confessed the killings to him and said he had been angry at the victims for giving heroin to his godfather. Metz said he tried to persuade Doughty not to harm him and to seek counseling.
After he was arrested, Doughty led Spartanburg deputies to the stolen Honda in a nearby lot. Metz said he did not know when he would be reunited with his car or what condition it was in but was glad to know police had found it.
The investigation began last Saturday night, after a woman alerted State Police about the bodies of 39-year-old Jennifer O’Connor and 37-year-old Mark Greenlaw in a home on Farm Avenue, in an isolated pocket of Peabody framed by an industrial area, marshy woodlands, and the split between Interstate 95 and Route 128.
Police arrested one suspect in the killings, 45-year-old Michael Hebb, on Monday and announced their search for Doughty the next day, releasing his photo in a wanted bulletin. He surfaced briefly Wednesday night, when he allegedly carjacked Metz, and authorities quickly released a be-on-the-lookout alert for Doughty and the stolen Accord.
One of Doughty’s longtime neighbors said Friday that she was relieved that no one was hurt — officers, bystanders, and the suspect himself — in his capture.
“I’m just so glad that everybody's safe and sound,” said the woman, who asked that only her first name, Winnie, be used.
A day before, she had sat in the kitchen of her Belleview Avenue home in Middleton, beside the home where Doughty grew up and where his sister still lives, and issued this tearful appeal: “Wessy, give yourself up. Don’t keep running. It’s not worth it. You can only get hurt.”
Though she had not seen him for many years, she had fond memories of Doughty as a child, helping him with his homework and watching him assist her late husband in building a deck. “He was just a good kid,” Winnie said. “Nobody in the neighborhood could believe this.”
On Friday, Metz said his faith in God carried him through that experience, but his nerves were beginning to fray — until he learned that authorities had captured Doughty and found his car.
“The reality starts to set in after the shock wears off,” said Metz, who raises money and coordinates faith-based social service projects in Peru for a living. “I was starting to feel a little bit shaky today.”
The owner of the pizza place where Metz fled after he escaped the car Wednesday night said Friday that he was happy to hear that Doughty had been caught and surprised he made it all the way to South Carolina.
“No kidding,” said Taso Anastasiadis, owner of Good Eats, near the Roxbury-South End line. “I’m glad. Justice will be served.”
A lifelong friend of one of the murder victims, Greenlaw, said Friday that his friend’s life had been rough and he had been in and out of trouble, but that nothing could have justified his violent death.
“I’m very happy [about the capture] because now his family can mourn their loss and get on. We’ll never recover from what these sickos did to them, and there’s nothing that will bring them back,” said Joseph Gardner.
Reached at home Friday evening, Mayor Junie White of Spartanburg said he had just learned of the arrest from watching television news. He said he was thrilled to learn police had apprehended Doughty.
“I’m happy they were able to capture him,” said White. “I don’t know how our people knew, but I’m glad we got him off the streets. We got some outstanding policemen in our community. They’re always on the ball.”
Also on Friday, investigators returned to the area near the Peabody crime scene to search for more evidence. State Police detectives and agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were combing “a swampy wooded area,” said State Police spokesman David Procopio.
The State Police Marine Unit and officers from the Peabody and Danvers police departments assisted with the search, while the state Department of Transportation was on scene to close a highway lane, said Stephen O’Connell, a spokesman for the Essex district attorney’s office.
An aerial photograph taken from Channel 7’s helicopter and tweeted by the station appeared to show an agent removing what looked like a rifle or shotgun from an area of thick brush. Procopio and O’Connell said they could not discuss what authorities were looking for or what they found.Nestor Ramos and Mike Bello of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Eric Moskowitz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeMoskowitz. Jan Ransom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Jan_Ransom.