INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Metropolitan police arrested two people suspected of carrying out several robberies around the Indianapolis area in October and November.

According to IMPD, 38-year-old Howard Jones Jr. and 37-year-old Ashley Bell were taken into custody on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, following a robbery at a Family Dollar store. The investigation also involved the FBI Violent Crimes Task Force Unit.

“Those guys were not in the area by chance. It was work that they put in to identify what was going on and the likelihood of it recurring and when and where,” said IMPD Capt. Dulin Nelson.

IMPD robbery detectives and task force members were aware of an increasing number of robberies in the area of 5300 North Keystone Ave. on the north side. Nelson said their detectives monitor robberies as they occur, looking for trends and similarities in cases, and come up with a plan to identify anyone potentially involved.

While surveilling the area, they saw a man run into the Family Dollar store located at 5135 N. Keystone Ave. Not long after that, he ran out.

Police saw him go north and then head east of the Family Dollar. Shortly after that, a blue Ford Escape left the area, leading to a short pursuit involving IMPD North District officers.

The pursuit ended when the SUV’s front driver’s side wheel bearing detached, disabling the vehicle, police said. The passenger, later identified as Jones, tried to get away but police quickly apprehended him. He was taken to an area hospital “for suspicion of a possible drug overdose,” police said, before being evaluated and released into police custody.

The driver of the SUV, identified as Bell, was also taken into custody.

Police believe the pair pulled off seven robberies at pharmacies, a smoke shop and a Family Dollar store in October and November, often hitting the same business multiple times. Here are the dates and locations, per IMPD:

  • Oct. 10, 2022: Walgreens, 5199 N. Keystone Ave.
  • Oct. 15, 2022: Walgreens, 5199 N. Keystone Ave.
  • Oct. 23, 2022: Walgreens, 5199 N. Keystone Ave.
  • Oct. 26, 2022: CVS, 2330 E 46th St.
  • Oct. 28, 2022: Family Dollar, 5135 N. Keystone Ave.
  • Oct. 31, 2022: Smoke Kulture, 5310 N. Keystone Ave.
  • Nov. 6, 2022: Family Dollar, 5135 N. Keystone Ave.

The pair stole multiple bottles of alcohol, including Hennessey and Patron, as well as cigarettes (typically Newport Marlboro and American Spirit brands) and cash, according to the probable cause affidavit filed in the case.

Tia Wilson owns Chicken Scratch, located next door to Smoke Kulture, which was robbed on Oct. 31. She said she is relieved that an arrest has been made and said it was ‘a little scary’ when she initially heard about what happened.

“You don’t want to see that happen to anyone’s business, especially the person that’s right next door to you,” said Wilson.

Wilson said they’re still keeping an eye out for anything suspicious and said she tells all of her employees if they see something, to say something. Still, she doesn’t want the actions of others to deter anyone from patronizing the businesses she said work so hard.

“You just got to keep going and hopefully it won’t happen again, you know,” said Wilson.

Some of the robberies turned violent. On Oct. 28, the first robbery at the Family Dollar store, employees said a man came into the store and pistol-whipped one of them. The man ended up with a cut above his left eye; police believe Jones was responsible. He took merchandise and money from the store.

An employee who witnessed the Nov. 6 robbery at Family Dollar said she recognized the suspect as being the same individual who’d robbed the store just a few days before.

According to court documents, Jones employed similar tactics in the robberies, approaching workers and demanding alcohol, cigarettes and cash. Sometimes he showed or implied he had a gun, although the firearm turned out to be a fake. He wore similar clothing in some of the thefts and often wore a blue mask. In other cases, he used a black bandana to obscure his face.

He wore gloves during some of the thefts, although surveillance footage showed he didn’t always have them on, police said. Surveillance cameras captured the thefts.

Jones targeted the same Walgreens location three times, according to court documents, and employees during the Oct. 23 robbery recognized him as the same individual who’d robbed the store earlier.

Due to the frequency and location of the robberies, police were watching the area when Jones ran into the Family Dollar store on Nov. 6. He didn’t steal anything on that day, however. An employee told police he told her to open the register, but someone came through the front door and startled him, leading him to run off.

During an interview with police, Bell said she and Jones were “robbing to survive.” Jones used the money they stole for gas and food, she told police, and sold the alcohol and cigarettes to make extra cash.

She accompanied him to several of the thefts, although she couldn’t recall if she drove him to each one or if she’d been a passenger, according to court documents. She recalled him returning to their vehicle a couple times with duffel bags.

During a search of the couple’s SUV, police discovered clothing matching that seen on the perpetrator in surveillance video. They also found duffel bags matching ones used in the crimes, a pair of cell phones and a Glock airsoft gun.

A probable cause affidavit shows Jones had an ankle monitor on at the time he was taken into custody.

The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office will make a final charging decision in the case. The robberies remain under investigation, IMPD said.

“I think businesses should be able to feel a bit safer knowing these detectives are putting in this hard work and working to solve these crimes,” said Nelson.