Suspect in knife-wielding holdups put behind bars

Police – and female clerks at motels and stores – are breathing easier, now that the man they accuse of threatening to slash workers if they didn’t hand over cash has been arrested …

This Motel 6 on SE Stark Street at SE 92nd Avenue is where police say the knife-brandishing bandit started his one-man crime spree.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
A one-man crime wave, who Portland Police Bureau Robbery Division detectives say they believe is responsible for seven armed robberies in the Portland area starting in August, is now in jail, awaiting an appearance before a Multnomah County Grand Jury.

“Our highest priority is to focus on commercial armed robberies,” said Portland Police Bureau Robbery Division Detective Chris Traynor, as he began telling East Portland News how officers cracked the case. “If a tavern or convenience store employee – or, in this case, a motel clerk – is robbed by an individual using a knife or gun, it is a Measure 11 case, and is immediately assigned to detectives.”

Days later, the knife-wielding stick up artist hit this inner SE Portland Motel 6 on SE Powell Boulevard.

The series of robberies that occurred in August, September, and October started in Montavilla at the Motel 6 at SE 92nd Ave. and Stark Street, Traynor began. Three days later, a clerk at the Motel 6 on SE Powell Boulevard at SE 30th Avenue was robbed.

“In both cases, the suspect came into the office, started a conversation, and asked reasonable questions before leaving,” Traynor said. “Then, he returned – brandishing a knife – and demanded money from the female clerks.”

By watching surveillance video from both locations, detectives started gathering evidence.

“We found his method of operation disturbing,” Traynor stated. “Most subjects won’t come in to a business and talk with the employees, acting like a customer, asking for room rates for example, and then come back a few minutes later and commit a robbery. Typically, they want to go in, get the money, and get out as quickly as possible.”

In at least one of the cases, the detective added, it looked as if the suspect “cased” the office during the first visit, noting the location of video cameras – and then turned his back to the surveillance cameras as he made his return appearance.

The trail went cold, and there weren’t any more robberies like these until mid-September. “As it turns out, the man we were seeking was arrested in Clackamas County in a stolen car on August 25, and was booked into jail,” Traynor explained.

Evidence left behind at this “adult” store in the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood was the knife-man’s undoing.

Once again on the street, the armed robber struck twice on September 15 – first at the Parkrose area Travelodge on NE 82nd Avenue, just south of NE Sandy Boulevard, and then at the Liberated World “adult” store at SE 106th Avenue and SE Division Street. “At the adult store robbery, we were able to recover DNA evidence,” Traynor continued.

The robber is said to have kept going on his crime spree with armed robberies in Clackamas County, Oregon City, and a motel in Tigard.

“We got a real break on October 2nd,” Traynor went on. “The Oregon State Police Forensics Division crime lab expedited the evidence sample we’d submitted, and came up with a name. His mug shot very closely matched the surveillance images we’d collected.”

Using sophisticated computer software, detectives located photos of individuals who looked similar to the man they suspected. “We don’t just ‘throw down’ a bunch of photos in front of victims, and ask them to pick one out,” Traynor told us. “Using this sophisticated program, we can present a ‘photo line-up’ on a portable computer when asking the witness to identify a suspect.”

Officials accuse this man, 42-year-old Michael Gene Benson, of being the armed robber who singled out lone female employees for robbery.

The result: All but one of the hold-up victims positively identified 42-year-old Michael Gene Benson as the man who took money from them at knifepoint.

“On Monday, October 19th, Benson, was arrested by members of the US Marshall’s Office in connection with a series of armed robberies that have occurred in Portland, Clackamas County, Gresham, and Tigard,” reported Portland Police Bureau spokesperson Detective Mary Wheat.

Hopefully, Ed’s Deli is the last location to be victimized in this crime spree.

In addition to the robberies Traynor spoke of, Benson is also suspected of holding up the Ladds Inn Tavern at SE 12th and Clay, the Blackwell Steakhouse at NE 41st and Sandy Blvd, and Ed’s Deli located on SE 52nd Avenue near SE Powell Boulevard, Wheat stated. “That’s seven armed robberies in the Portland area. Benson was arrested and held on Multnomah County arrest warrants for three robberies in Portland and a Multnomah County Grand Jury will be held for the remaining four robberies that Benson is suspected of committing in Portland.”

Additionally, according to Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Paul Stegleder, they expect to be charging Benson with five more counts of robbery in the first degree after a case is submitted to that county’s district attorney’s office.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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