Four arrested in catalytic converter thefts

Four people from Wichita were arrested by Iola Police on suspicion of stealing catalytic converters.

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September 16, 2021 - 10:07 AM

A catalytic converter Courtesy photo

Four Wichita suspects face assorted burglary, theft and drug possession charges after they were caught with stolen catalytic converters.

Sgt. Bob Droessler of the Iola Police Department explained the sequence of events that led to the arrests of Shelia Elmore, 65, Scott Geseman, 45, William Gillespie, 30, and Martin Tarango, 25.

Before sunrise Friday, officers received a call of a suspicious person “messing around” with a white Ford van in a parking lot near Iola Middle School.

There was nobody around when officers arrived, however a short time later, a woman fitting Elmore’s description approached the officers in need of assistance. She was looking for two subjects in a vehicle, Droessler said.

She wasn’t immediately taken into custody, Droessler said, as officers began searching for the vehicle, which was spotted a short while later in the Casey’s General Store parking lot.

Inside the vehicle were Geseman and Gillespie. 

“Their answers weren’t adding up, either,” Droessler said.

Officers also noticed what appeared to be a number of catalytic converters lying in the back seat.

“In plain view,” Droessler noted.

While officers were arresting the two men, they realized Elmore, too, was a suspect, as was a third male.

The third male, Tarango, was spotted a short while later on foot on East Street, near Pete’s Jump Start and Sigg Motors.

While Tarango was being taken into custody, another passerby stopped to talk with officers, informing them they had just given a woman matching Elmore’s description a ride into Woodson County. Her behavior led the motorist to become suspicious, prompting the driver to seek out the officers, Droessler said.

“Everybody did a really good job,” Droessler said.

In total, officers found seven catalytic converters in the vehicle, as well as other objects believed to have been stolen from an Iola Housing Authority garage near Eisenhower Drive.

Subsequent investigation revealed two of the catalytic converters were taken from a pair of local vehicles, one owned by the Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center, the other by Good Life Innovations.

“We have not yet been able to identify the other five vehicles,” Droessler said.

The four suspects face charges of felony theft and criminal damage to property, burglary and possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.

CATALYTIC converters, which are a part of a vehicle’s exhaust system, are a valuable target for thieves because they contain bit amounts of platinum, rhodium and palladium.

They’re also relatively easy and quick to remove with the right tools, such as a reciprocating saw.

Depending on the make and model of the vehicle — as well as the remaining amounts of the three metals — catalytic converters can fetch $100 or more at a metal salvage lot, reported Ray Maloney, owner of Ray’s Metal Depot.

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