SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -

Three men from Greene County are charged with terrorizing elderly people by breaking into their homes and robbing them.  Police say the group broke into three homes twice and used a hatchet on at least one occasion to threaten the residents.

A three-month investigation of the seven home invasions and burglaries led Springfield police to serve four search warrants last Thursday evening.  Officers served one in Ash Grove with help from the Greene County Sheriff’s Department’s SWAT team.  They served the other three search warrants in Springfield.

Officers arrested and interviewed Joseph SmileyHershel Marsh, and Stephen Steele.  Between them, they now face 26 charges.  All three are in the Greene County jail.  The burglaries and home invasions started six months ago.

Smiley, 32, of Ash Grove, is charged with five counts of first-degree robbery, five counts of first-degree burglary, one count of second-degree robbery, four counts of armed criminal action, and one count of second-degree burglary. His bond is set at $250,000.  Court records show the break-ins with which he is charged occurred on Aug. 26, 2013; Sept. 15, 2013; Sept. 22, 2013; Oct. 15, 2013; Jan. 7, 2014; Jan. 4, 2014; and Jan. 25, 2014.  Police say Smiley used to live in Springfield but recently moved to Ash Grove.

Marsh, 45, of Springfield, is charged with one count of first-degree burglary and one count of second-degree burglary, and his bond is set at $50,000.  Court records show the break-ins with which he is charged occurred on Jan. 7, 2014, and Feb. 11, 2014.

Steele, 20, of Springfield, is charged with four counts of first-degree burglary, two counts of misdemeanor stealing, and two counts of theft of a firearm. His bond is set at $50,000.  Court records show the break-ins with which he is charged occurred on Aug. 26, 2013; Sept. 15, 2013; Sept. 22, 2013; and Jan. 7, 2014.

Lisa Cox, a police department spokeswoman, says all the victims are elderly people, ages 76 – 91.  Their seven homes are all on the north and northwest areas of the city, and the invaders hit three of the seven homes twice.  Other than that, police haven’t found a connection between the victims.

In the home invasion on Jan. 25, an elderly widow woke up to find masked men in her house.  One man held a hatchet to her throat for a couple of hours while the others went through her home, taking her late husband's guns, whatever cash and jewelry she had, and other valuable property.