Pickens Sheriff’s Office / Photo
Hundreds of knives and other items believed to be stolen were seized by sheriff officers last week. The loot now fills a conference room and is stored in trailers at the jail. See photos of other items on Page 9A in the print or online editions.
Like Hoarders mixed with Cops, sheriff’s officers last week hauled more than 1,000 items believed to be stolen, ranging from vehicles to GI Joe dolls, from a wooded Reavis Road home.
Lt. Chris Webb of the Pickens Sheriff’s office said there’s a chance anything stolen in the past decade is now at the jail, overflowing a conference room and in two covered trailers out back and they want to get it back to the owners.
Detectives say the piles of stolen loot came from Pickens and surrounding counties and were either traded to homeowner Tony Elbert Merrell, 45, for drugs or he paid for them, knowing they were stolen.
“We believe everybody took whatever to him and he either paid them cash for it or traded them drugs,” Webb said.
Merrell is charged with three counts of theft by receiving (including two felony counts), two counts of altering the VIN number of vehicles, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, having a firearm as a convicted felon (18 were found in the home) as well as possession of drug charges. He remained in jail Tuesday afternoon.
When arrested, he had oxycodone, morphine and hydrocodone on him, and methamphetamine was found at the home, according to Lt. Webb.
The suspect’s wife, Tonya Michelle Merrell, 31, faces charges of altering vehicle serial numbers and theft by receiving (two felony counts and 1 misdemeanor). She was released on bond Tuesday.
A third arrest is likely coming soon, say investigators.
Webb said Pickens Sheriff’s officers and Drug Task Force agents received information earlier this month that Merrell was selling both methamphetamine and pills and also operating a chop shop from his home on Reavis Road in Ball Ground.
With a criminal history dating back to 1990, Webb said they used more than 20 officers from the sheriff’s office and Drug Task Force to make the arrest, finding the suspect on a Bobcat putting in a basement for a new house at the rear of his property. He was armed with a shotgun on the Bobcat and had two pistols and the pills in his pockets.
He was arrested without incident with one team of officers providing surveillance from the woods, while other officers arrived at the front of the house. Webb said information given to them indicated he would be armed and that as many as six other individuals regularly stayed around that house.
The detective said they realized quickly they had uncovered what is likely the largest amount of stolen items in the history of this county. He estimated that more than 1,000 stolen items were recovered last week from the home and the woods around it, though the dollar value is likely not that great for the numerous odds and ends.
Webb likened it to the television show Hoarders with stuff “scattered all over his property and on neighboring property.”
There was no order to the stolen merchandise, he said. It was just piled everywhere in the house and around it and came in all descriptions, including 40 laptops, 500 knives, pressure washers, coins and, oddly, three complete Singer sewing machines.
Among the loot, there appeared to be knives from the Civil War and bayonets from World War I mixed among drills, chainsaws and air compressors. One of the stranger items was a photo album showing people in fine evening attire from the 1970s at some type of reception.
Webb said the home was in such massive disorder that DFCS was called due to five children living there. It contained two safes, one for 18 guns and one for piles of jewelry.
Webb said as far as they knew, the suspect had no plans or method to get rid of any of the contraband that he may have been taking items as far back as 2006, based on his previous criminal history, arrests and incarcerations.
There were piles of titles to vehicles, at least three stolen cars, several more with VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) numbers clearly altered and dozens parked around the property that they are still running information on.
The sheriff’s office is creating a photo album of around 550 pictures and welcomes anyone who has had items stolen to make an appointment with the criminal investigation division, 706-253-8923, to view it. It is believed most items were stolen in the past decade from Pickens, Cherokee and Dawson counties, though one stolen car showed up from Forsyth.
The detective cautions that owners must show some proof of ownership and preferably a police report where they reported it stolen.
“We’ve already had a few people wanting to just come and browse,” he said, and that is not allowed.