Those who had dealings with a Squamish man now in U.S. custody and facing charges in connection with a string of armed robberies in the Lower Mainland were shocked and surprised when they learned of the accusations against him.
Thomas John Schwartz, 68 — also known as Tom Stone — was stopped by U.S. border officials on Dec. 15 as he tried to cross into the U.S. Schwartz was arrested on an outstanding warrant from 1972 relating to allegations that he deserted from the U.S. Air Force, police said in a statement issued on Friday (Jan. 4).
Since last March, Vancouver Police, West Vancouver Police and Burnaby and North Vancouver RCMP have investigated eight robberies of stores believed to have been carried out by the same person, Vancouver police said.
The last theft, which took place in a North Vancouver Toys “R” Us on Dec. 1 while the store was filled with holiday shoppers, prompted police to issue a public appeal. Surveillance photos of the suspect were posted on various news websites.
“We are concerned that this male is demonstrating an escalating nature of violence and we are concerned for public safety,” Joe Danieli, Vancouver Police General Investigative Unit detective constable, said at a press conference at the time.
On Dec. 21, investigators were contacted by U.S. authorities. When they and Canada’s Integrated National Security Enforcement Team started digging into Schwartz’s background, they discovered he’d been living in Canada under an assumed name and was under investigation for armed robbery, police said.
Claire Monnier said she was “shocked” when the story of Schwartz’s arrest, including a photo, first appeared last week on The Chief’s website and Facebook page.
Tom Stone was a client of Monnier’s when she worked as an advertising sales representative for The Chief. At the time, he worked for a company called Cartunes Sound and Cellular, a Coquitlam-based company that had offices in Squamish from approximately 2000 to mid-2012.
Monnier said she talked to “Stone” — it’s not known whether he had changed his name while in Canada — about once a week for about 14 months in 2011 and early 2012.
“I wouldn’t have thought for one second that he was capable of doing the sort of things he’s accused of,” she said on Tuesday (Jan. 8). He never mentioned anything about his past and that she didn’t notice any sort of American accent, Monnier said.
“The first place I saw it [the report] was on the Chief’s Facebook page. I was really shocked — as soon as I saw the picture of him, I knew.”
No one contacted by The Chief could say how long Schwartz had lived in Squamish before his arrest.
A member of the Cartunes management team, who spoke on the condition that his name not be used, confirmed on Monday (Jan. 7) that Schwartz had worked out of the company’s Squamish office for approximately a year, ending in early 2012.
“He wasn’t in our employ when he started this run of issues that he’s had,” the Cartunes official said. “When he worked for us we knew him as Tom Stone and we knew nothing about any of this.
“He did make some decent contacts in your market and I would say that the majority of the people in your market [that he has heard from] have expressed shock and surprise at the news.”
News of Schwartz’s arrest came as a relief for all the agencies involved, said Cst. Jeff Palmer, a spokesman for the West Vancouver Police Department.
“Everybody was concerned that the pattern of the offences and the level of violence involved was escalating,” Palmer told the North Shore News. “Who knows where the next offence would pop up?… We’re grateful that the appeal for public assistance helped identify a suspect and grateful that he’s in custody.”
On March 31, 2012, a man walked into a West Vancouver Safeway on Marine Drive, pulled out a gun and demanded money. Frightened staff handed over cash and the man fled. In another robbery caught on surveillance video on May 6, a man tried to rob the Queensdale Market in North Vancouver, striking the store manager over the head with a weapon when he was confronted.
On May 12, according to court documents, a man approached a customer service clerk at Extra Foods in North Vancouver, pulled out a gun and forced the clerk into an office, where he got her to hand over $13,000 in cash before fleeing.
Other holdups allegedly committed by Schwartz include the robbery of SuperValu in Edgemont Village in May, of an IGA Marketplace store in Vancouver Oct. 11, and two robberies of Choices markets in Burnaby and Vancouver on Oct. 26 and Nov. 17. A final robbery allegedly happened at the Toys-R-Us store Dec. 1.
Schwartz has been charged with robbery and weapons-related offences. The investigation is continuing and additional charges are expected, the release stated.
The U.S. citizen remains in custody in the U.S. pending his extradition hearing scheduled for March 11.
— With files from Rebecca Aldous, The Chief, and Jane Seyd, North Shore News