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Twitter dubbed 'the ultimate crime-fighter'

After posting surveillance photos of the theft of a travel trailer to Facebook and Twitter, Medford police got a steady stream of tips that helped them track down the suspected thieves.

Thursday evening investigators shared photos of a bearded man who hitched a 2002 Salem 26-foot travel trailer, valued at $8,000, to a U-Haul moving van and drove away from a business in the 3000 block of Biddle Road. The theft happened at 8:45 p.m. Wednesday, police said.

Shortly after releasing the photographs and information, including the stolen trailer's license plate number and description, officers began to receive tips. Callers reported seeing the U-Haul, trailer and suspects at multiple locations between Medford and Shady Cove.

"We were getting tips right away," Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau said. "You know, within the hour."

One caller reported three people with a trailer matching the description had requested directions to Beatty, northeast of Klamath Falls. Medford police notified other law enforcement and government agencies around Beatty to keep an eye out for the trailer and suspects.

"It caused us to extend our (search) out to that area," Budreau said. "We were getting somewhat of a play-by-play."

Almost exactly 24 hours after the theft was reported, a Crater Lake National Park snowplow operator spotted the trailer and U-Haul van in the park.

Park rangers responded and found Kenneth Mark Wilkey, 50; Ernesto Casas, 32; and Judy Ann Hyde, 46, all of Sacramento, Calif., warm inside the trailer with the generator running.

Rangers arrested the three and took them to the Jackson County Jail. Each suspect was booked into jail on a charge of first-degree theft, but only Casas remained in jail Friday with bail set at $15,000.

Investigators suspect the three had been traveling through Medford from Sacramento when they spotted the trailer and stole it. Their final destination was not known.

Police credited social media and citizen involvement in helping to find the suspects. Social websites such as Twitter also have been helpful in other recent cases, investigators said.

"There's no question," Budreau said. "It's instant. We get the surveillance pics, we can upload them, hit send. Now everybody sees what we see. It's basically the ultimate crime-fighter."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com.