NH special effects artist helps police capture armed robber
But he recently stepped into the hero's role in a real-life whodunit that led to the capture of a man who allegedly held up two banks and two post offices in Pennsylvania and Delaware in January.
Oneail made the mask.
Oneail, 41, owns and operates Oneail FX Studios in the basement of the Goffstown home he shares with his fiancee. Over the past year, he started concentrating on custom-designed, lifelike silicone masks, which he sells on eBay.
Last month, the feds called.
They were trying to solve a series of armed robberies and wanted to know whether Oneail recalled selling one particular mask to anyone in Pennsylvania; it turned out to be his "Raj" mask.
A quick check of his records turned up a Blair Thomas Jr., who in late December had paid about $400 for a "Raj" mask and had it shipped to an address in East Landsdowne, Pa.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service got a search warrant for the address, where they found the mask, a semiautomatic handgun and about $3,000 in cash, according to court records.
But it is something special-effects artists acknowledge and even joke about - that someone will use their handiwork someday to commit a crime, he said.
At a sci-fi convention last summer, he even joked with some customers that "our masks pay for themselves in their first heist."
Oneail said he prefers to think the man who bought his mask had "the best of intentions" at first. "Maybe he figured he was going to be the next Internet superstar or ... go do magic tricks for kids in the burn unit.
According to court documents, Thomas has two prior felony robbery convictions in Delaware, "one of which involved his wearing a mask."
And the robber forgot one key detail: "When the male drew the gun from his waistband, the skin on his belly was black, which the clerk thought was odd because his masked face was tan or white."
According to the federal indictments, Thomas attempted to rob a post office in Yeadon, Pa., on Jan. 22, at gunpoint. And the following day, he allegedly robbed a Wells Fargo Bank in Springfield, Pa., and the M&T Bank in Wilmington, Del. In each case, the robber was wearing the mask, authorities said.
But he said, "I want to get a guy off the streets that's doing this type of thing. I'd rather do what I can to make the world a better place."
The agent did a double-take. "We'll do what we can," he told Oneail.
Reginald Wade Jr. is public information officer for the Philadelphia Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. He said the information Oneail provided "played a big role" in catching the robbery suspect.