Locust rookie police officer helps catch suspected serial robber

LOCUST, N.C. — A Union County father is behind bars, suspected of robbing about a dozen Dollar General stores at gunpoint across the Carolinas.

A rookie officer with the Locust Police Department helped crack the cases spanning hundreds of miles.

Officer Hannah Claiborne spotted a silver car backed into a parking space at the Dollar General in Locust Wednesday, which matched the car officers were looking out for after several armed robberies at Dollar General stores.

“As he pulled out, he waved, so I waved back and I kind of just looked back, made sure I got a tag number,” Claiborne told Eyewitness News anchor Liz Foster.

The rookie officer went inside and asked the clerk to pull up surveillance video to see if the driver looked like surveillance pictures she had seen.

“I thought it was him. He looked very, very similar,” Claiborne said.

After getting that video, investigators learned the owner of the car was Ron Houser, who served nearly 18 years in prison for armed robberies in Union and Anson counties.

Investigators showed his picture to a store clerk in South Carolina, who said that was the guy who threatened her with a gun and forced her to a back storage room.

Law enforcement across the Carolinas now believe they have the suspect behind bars who robbed about a dozen Dollar General and Family Dollar stores across at least six counties in North Carolina and South Carolina.

Police told Channel 9 they believe Houser was casing the Locust store, before robbing it.

“I have no doubt that she prevented a robbery from happening here in Locust,” Locust police Chief Frank Hartsell said.

Channel 9 obtained a copy of a federal complaint filed Monday by an FBI agent that details investigators finding a black bandana and gloves in Houser’s car and a silver handgun inside his Stallings home that matched the description from clerks. They also found clothes that matched what the suspect was seen wearing in the surveillance video.

“I’m glad they finally got whoever it was,” Stanly County resident Samantha Bowden said.

Because the FBI is now involved and the robberies cross state lines, Houser is facing federal charges in South Carolina and more could be pending in North Carolina.

While modest about helping solve about a dozen robberies, Claiborne said her conversation with the store clerk may have been more rewarding.

“I’m glad it helped solve the other cases, but just being face to face with somebody who genuinely was grateful for what happened and for what could’ve happened and it was stopped, that was very rewarding,” Claiborne said.

Hartsell praised Claiborne’s work.

“I’m extremely proud of Officer Claiborne,” he said. “She did an excellent job. This is what good police work is all about.”

Houser is in the Union County Jail on 18 charges and counting. Investigators said it’s likely there are more robberies Houser committed that they’re not aware of yet.

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