ATHENS Police say a flasher helped search for himself.

The same man has been flashing girls in Athens, Madison and Huntsville, Athens police Sgt. Trevor Harris said.

On March 14 at the Athens Wal-Mart, the flasher exposed his genitals to two teenagers, Harris said.

"They were walking through the store, and he asked them a question to get their attention. When they turned to face him, he made movements with his hands to draw attention that his fly was open and his penis hanging out."

The teenagers, who are best friends, ran to find one teen's mother, Harris said. The mother notified an employee, who called for management.

While the mother, best friends and employee were waiting for management, Harris said, a man approached the group and said he was an undercover police officer.

When management arrived, the man quickly showed the group a badge, Harris said, and offered to help search for the flasher.

"The undercover officer went with the mother and girls to search the store while the manager went in an opposite direction," Harris said. "By the time everyone got back together, the officer was gone and no one knew where."

Investigators later showed the teens photos of known sex offenders and photos of Athens officers to see if they could identify either the flasher or the so-called undercover officer.

"They didn't see anyone they recognized," Harris said. "Later, the two friends got to talking and realized the flasher and undercover officer were the same man."

Harris said the flasher had covered his shirt with a coat and had donned a hat to disguise his identity.

Athens got a breakthrough when the Madison Police Department heard about the Athens case and sent Athens a suspect's name.

Harris said there have been flashing incidents at stores in Madison and Huntsville. Harris put the suspect's picture in a photo lineup, and he said the teens identified Madison's suspect.

Harris identified the man as Thomas Erich Durham, 44, of 1408 Wind River Drive, Huntsville.

Durham turned himself in to Athens on Thursday, Harris said. Durham refused to answer questions or make a statement.

Charges

Athens charged Durham with indecent exposure and impersonating a police officer, a felony. Durham is out of jail on $5,500 bond. Harris said Huntsville has a warrant for Durham for indecent exposure, and charges are pending in Madison.

Athens police Lt. Floyd Johnson quipped he was glad "we zipped this case up." Johnson and Harris said Durham needs to "be off the street."

They say Durham may have flashed other victims. Anyone with information can call police at 233-8700 and ask to fill out a report.