For a brief period after the Vineyard Haven Rockland Trust bank robbery on Nov. 17, it appeared as if the robbers might get away with it — despite the seeming incongruity of bank robbery on an Island with no easy escape route.

A red herring investigation at a Falmouth hotel on the afternoon of the robbery turned up no leads, and 36 hours after the incident, all the suspects remained at-large.

Nearly one month later, police have arrested and charged three people in connection to the heist, using a mix of old fashioned detective work and modern investigative tactics that involve cell phone tracking and Google search analysis.

But according to affidavits filed in federal court, it’s likely that none of the arrests would have occurred as quickly, or maybe happened at all, without the timely passing of a VTA bus on the morning of the robbery — and the myriad public surveillance cameras that made the subsequent investigation possible.

On Nov. 17, at 8:29 a.m., a public bus drove past the parking lot on Barnes Road where police said the robbers dumped a Nissan Murano that they stole from the bank tellers and used as a getaway vehicle. As the bus passed, police said, a video camera caught surveillance footage of the Murano parked near the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest.

Cameras at the Vineyard Haven SSA terminal also captured videos of the robbery suspects. — Noah Asimow

But more importantly, police said, the passing bus also caught something else: video of a dark-colored, blue or black sedan leaving the state forest parking lot. The sedan, a 2007 Hyundai Elantra, had a missing hubcap on the driver’s side of the vehicle.

Using that footage and the plethora of security cameras at the Vineyard Haven SSA terminal and Stop & Shop parking lot, police were able to place the same car pulling into the grocery store later that morning and determine the car was registered to Omar Johnson, of Canterbury, N.H. One day later, they spotted the vehicle on the Island and pulled it over, noticing the car had a defective rear brake light. Its driver was Miquel Jones. He was arrested that same weekend.

According to VTA bus schedules, it was very lucky that a bus passed the parking lot at the right time to capture the Hyundai leaving — a chance encounter that ultimately broke the case.

The Route #7 VTA bus, which goes from the Martha’s Vineyard Airport to Oak Bluffs, via Barnes and County Road, does seven trips per day during the offseason, starting at 6:22 a.m. and running every two hours. Its second trip of the day is scheduled to leave the airport at 8:22 a.m. and arrive at the Roundabout at 8:27 a.m. But on Nov. 17, the Elantra was spotted leaving the parking lot, which is located between the airport and Roundabout, at 8:29 a.m.

Police have not confirmed on the record that the initial footage was a VTA bus, although they have said they used VTA surveillance in the investigation. 

According to an email from VTA administrator Angie Gompert, every VTA bus has a variety of cameras, on both the interior and exterior of the vehicle, mainly for insurance purposes.

“All VTA buses do have cameras on the inside and most, if not all have them on the outside as well,” Ms. Gompert said. “The cameras lowered our insurance premiums significantly when we began installing them about 12 years ago.”

Ms. Gompert said the cameras are turned on while the bus is running, and are supposed to stay live for 20 minutes after the bus shuts off. While buses have a minimum of two cameras, the VTA’s newest buses have as many as 10 cameras, including a reverse camera, allowing them to function as roving surveillance vehicles, and a key tool for law enforcement.

“The exterior cameras look down the side of each bus, which is helpful when buses pass bikes,” she said. “There is a forward facing camera on the inside of the bus, that looks out the front windshield. Various views of the inside view the farebox, the driver, entry doors and the passenger seating area.”

Although Ms. Gompert did not know what camera was used to capture the Elantra leaving the parking lot, she said that police have previously used surveillance footage from the buses for investigations. State police trooper Dustin Shaw, who has been investigating the robbery, declined to comment for this article.

While cities often have cameras affixed to street lights or on private residences, rural areas like the Vineyard have few methods of public surveillance — save the rare VTA bus or SSA terminal.

“Over the years we have been contacted by law enforcement on occasion for assistance,” Ms. Gompert said. “The primary use of the cameras is to verify the VTA’s involvement, if any in insurance claims.”

In an interview with the Gazette, Steamship Authority spokesman Sean Driscoll confirmed that the boat line has security cameras at its terminals, on its boats and on its buses. The cameras are separate from cameras that it uses to monitor the standby line, which are not live webcams but rather still shots that update approximately every 30 seconds, Mr. Driscoll said.

The Vineyard Haven terminal has at least five cameras on the exterior of its building, as well as cameras on the ticket booth and inside the terminal. The Stop & Shop building has three cameras on its north-facing wall that look into the grocery store’s parking lot at various angles.

Both the SSA standby camera and security cameras at the terminal captured the car and robbery suspects on Nov. 17, according to police.

Mr. Driscoll said that law enforcement will on occasion request access to SSA terminal cameras, and have asked the SSA to hold boats in rare circumstances.

Law enforcement did not request the SSA stop boats on the day of the robbery, Mr. Driscoll said. Police requested access to the cameras the day after, on Nov. 18, viewing video of the suspects and their cars entering and exiting the terminal, federal affidavits state.

“The enabling act allows us to share information with law enforcement when they request it,” Mr. Driscoll said. “Law enforcement reached out to us for information in this instance.”

After arresting Mr. Jones on Nov. 19, police were able to use cell phone records to locate materials associated with the robbery, including clothing, burnt duffel bag parts and two guns. Mr. Johnson, who was identified on camera exiting the Hyundai Elantra in the SSA terminal and driving a different car into standby, was arrested the next week.

On Dec. 7, police arrested Romane Clayton, a third individual associated with the robbery. He was also captured on SSA surveillance video on the day of the incident, exiting a car that Mr. Johnson later entered in the Stop & Shop parking lot. He was previously identified by law enforcement as “Person 2.”

The investigation remains open and ongoing, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that surveillance footage from a VTA bus initially spotted the Elantra leaving the parking lot. The article has been updated to reflect that police have not specified that the vehicle was a VTA bus, but a "passing public bus."