Fla. police clerk helps solve case, leading to arrest of a modern-day 'Bonnie and Clyde'
"For this case to be solved through the cooperation of a retired school teacher who reads every report — I couldn't be prouder of her."
By Frank Fernandez
The Daytona Beach News-Journal
FLAGLER BEACH, Fla. — Susie Buttner has worked as the records clerk at the Flagler Beach Police Department for five years. Before that, Buttner was a school teacher for 36 years, teaching English and reading in the Florida Keys.
But she always had an interest in law enforcement, so much so that a detective calls her "Constable Buttner."
Well, the constable noticed something recently which helped lead to the arrest of a pair accused in a string of armed robberies along the East Coast.
The case started on Nov. 6 when Flagler Beach Police found a stolen Ford box truck with Virginia plates in the 500 block of South Ocean Shore Boulevard. A license plate reader had alerted officers to the vehicle as it headed east on State Road 100. But when police found it minutes later, it was unoccupied.
Seven days later, a woman returned home after being away for three weeks to find that her house on South Central Avenue had been burglarized. Money, jewelry and her Honda CRV were among the pilfered items.
Buttner read both reports.
"I'm thinking to myself: There's a connection here," Buttner said in an interview. "Because I'm positive that those suspects are the same ones, you know, because the timeframe and they needed a place to stay."
And they needed a ride back to where they came from, she added.
"So then I looked at those and, I'm positive there's a link, so I went to the detective and I said, you know, I really think you should look at these two cases," Buttner said.
Flagler Beach Detective Rosanna Vinci took over the case. Vinci said in an interview that she investigates cases of vehicles stolen from Flagler Beach. But she does not usually work on cases of vehicles stolen from other jurisdictions and found in Flagler Beach.
She said she was not aware of the stolen box truck but was reviewing the burglary.
Vinci is the one who gave Buttner the "Constable Buttner" nickname and now the constable wanted her attention.
"She mentioned like, 'Hey, you know do you think these two might be related?'" Vinci said.
Vinci compared reports and agreed.
"It seemed probable," she said. "We recovered a stolen box truck. Those people have nowhere to go and now we have a stolen vehicle reported a week later. And that's not two things that are usually back-to-back in Flagler Beach."
The Flagler County Sheriff's Office processed the box truck for fingerprints and other evidence.
Flagler Beach patrol officers processed the evidence in the burglarized house, including the fingerprints.
A property and evidence clerk at Flagler Beach took the prints from the truck and the house to Volusia County Sheriff's Office at 10 a.m. on Dec. 1 and by 4 p.m. police had the suspects' identities, said Flagler Beach Police Chief Matthew P. Doughney, who praised the different agencies for working together.
"There's working hard, and there's working smart. In this case we worked not only hard but smart with multiple different agencies not only in Flagler County and Volusia County, but in other states as well," Doughney said.
The burglars had left behind plenty of work for Flagler Beach Police officers processing the scene.
"They kind of made themselves at home in there," Vinci said. "They cooked food, they showered, they slept in the bed."
The woman's husband had passed away and the burglars realized this, leaving a message in the burglarized house.
"They left a note on her whiteboard in the kitchen saying 'Sorry, we're homeless. Sorry for your loss,'" Vinci said.
Flagler Beach Police sent the fingerprints to be processed on Dec. 1 to the Volusia County Sheriff's Office. In less than 24 hours, the analyst had the matches to Rickley J. Senning and Jesann Willis.
As Vinci investigated she started seeing multiple recent incidents with Willis, 35, and Senning, 32.
Senning is no stranger to the law, particularly in Maryland.
Senning was indicted in 2014 in Maryland on charges of assaulting and kidnapping a Montgomery County Maryland circuit court judge with whom he was living, according to news accounts. The judge had represented Senning when she was a public defender and was his ex-girlfriend, according to news accounts.
"He served three years for that and obviously has not learned his lesson," Vinci said in the interview.
Vinci also got a call from a detective in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, telling her that they were working an armed robbery at a hotel in which the Flagler Beach woman's stolen Honda was used.
Vinci saw that Senning and Willis were from Montgomery County, Maryland, so she called law enforcement there. They quickly responded that they were looking for the pair.
The Flagler Beach burglary victim also started receiving notices of unpaid tolls from various states with a photo of her Honda CRV blowing through the toll booths. The tag had been switched on the vehicle to an unused tag that had been kept in the burglarized house in Flagler Beach.
Vinci passed on the information to the other law enforcement agencies and they zeroed in on the pair in the stolen Honda.
On Dec. 2, the day after the fingerprints were matched by the Volusia County Sheriff's Office, Senning and Willis were arrested in Washington, D.C.
"They knew they were in a specific area, but had no idea what vehicle they were operating," Vinci said. "And once they knew that vehicle, that was the nail in the coffin."
Buttner and Vinci said they were excited to learn of the arrests.
"And they confessed," Buttner said.
"They confessed to everything," Vinci seconded.
The agency issued a press release saying the Flagler Beach case had led to the arrest of a modern-day "Bonnie and Clyde."
Senning and Willis confessed to three armed bank robberies and numerous armed robberies to jewelry stores, gas stations and hotels in various states, according to the press release from Flagler Beach Police.
Vinci worked with detectives, investigators and agents from Georgia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and the FBI on the case, the release stated.
Vinci said the gun used in the armed robberies was stolen in Ohio.
In Flagler County, Senning and Willis face charges of burglary of an unoccupied dwelling, grand theft of a motor vehicle, theft and criminal mischief.
Vinci and Buttner are not sure why they came to Flagler Beach but both have ties to Florida. Vinci said she believes Senning's father lives in South Florida.
Vinci and Buttner believe that if Senning had not been arrested, the outcome would have been quite bad for someone during an armed robbery.
"It was only a matter of time before he hurt somebody," Vinci said.
Buttner said she enjoyed helping crack the case. It was different from her usual duties sitting behind clear partition fielding questions from the public in the police department lobby. She also handles public records requests
"I like meeting the people and taking care of the people," Buttner said. "I'm a firm believer that when people call in for a public records request, it's my duty to honor it as quickly and efficiently as I can. And then I get to meet the citizens and I get all kinds of different calls from people."
Doughney praised his department's retired school teacher turned records clerk, who the chief said saw something and said something.
"She's not a sworn officer but it's one big team," Doughney said. "For this case to be solved through the cooperation of a retired school teacher who reads every report — I couldn't be prouder of her."