For two years, city work crews have been buffing away graffiti from bridges, overpasses and sound barriers, suspecting it was the work of one vandal. The ubiquitous scribbling was even named best graffiti of 2004 by a city weekly.
And after it showed up along Interstate 95 late last month, state police joined the search for whoever was marking the concrete with the word "Apes."
Yesterday, state police said they had arrested a Hampden man and had seized, in an early morning raid of his van and rowhouse, 2,000 cans of spray paint and a half-dozen photo albums with pictures of graffiti.
They said they also seized an ape suit.
Christopher R. Peters - aka Christopher R. Apes, according to state police - was charged with several counts of malicious destruction of property in connection with graffiti on highway overpasses in Harford County. Peters, 26, of the 3400 block of Roland Ave. was being held yesterday at the Harford County Detention Center.
Peters became a suspect, police said yesterday, when a state trooper searching the Internet found references to the distinctive markings, and an article featuring an interview with Peters about a 1997 graffiti spree in Milwaukee.
Police said that removing "Apes" graffiti in the Baltimore area has cost taxpayers thousands of dollars. Baltimore Detective Larry Holland, of the city Police Department's environmental crimes section, estimated the damage from the hundreds of "Apes" paintings around the city at $150,000.
They said they've been looking for the person responsible for two years.
"We had an idea what crew he ran with, but never caught him. It was basically a `catch me if you can' kind of thing," Holland said.
In its "Best of" issue this year, the City Paper named "Apes" best graffiti.
On Halloween weekend, similar graffiti was found on seven overpasses on I-95 north of Baltimore, police said. Police said the graffiti typically included a combination of "FCR," apparently meaning "Fat Chicks Rule," and "SEB," for "Straight Edge Bomber," an apparent tribute to a graffiti artist who died in 1997 after a 40-foot fall while spray-painting.
State Trooper Glen Peterson found references to the "Apes" graffiti on the Internet and discovered a 1999 article in an alternative weekly in Wisconsin featuring an interview with Peters.
After exchanging information with Milwaukee police about their "Apes" graffiti cases in 1997, state police requested a search warrant for Peters' house and 1999 Plymouth Voyager minivan, which still has Wisconsin tags, police said.
In addition to the furry costume and the cans of spray paint, police said they found several fire extinguishers filled with paint and five-gallon paint buckets during the search of Peters' house.
Peters was released in 1998 after serving 20 months in jail in Wisconsin for a vandalism conviction, but was to have remained on probation until next year, according to a 1999 article in the Shepherd Express of Milwaukee.
In that article, Peters is quoted as saying the threat of prison doesn't deter graffiti artists who are motivated by ego to put their names in public places.
But, according to the article, Peters said he was worried about being connected with graffiti artists known as "taggers" after his conviction, and he was quoted as saying, "I'm worrying every day the cops are going to come in through the door and haul me back."