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Purse snatchers meet their match

Elderly shopper hangs on to handbag despite thieves attempts

Posted: August 18, 2008 9:25 p.m.
Updated: October 20, 2008 5:01 a.m.

An elderly shopper outwitted a elusive gang of persistent wallet-lifting thieves at every turn recently in a harrowing aisle-to-aisle cross-store encounter.

She is now helping law enforcement detectives identify the scheming thieves.

The alert 81-year-old, longtime resident of Santa Clarita Valley told The Signal she was persistently harassed while shopping inside Vons on Bouquet Canyon Road at Newhall Ranch Road.

The woman, who asked that her name not be published, never took her hand off her purse even though thieves tried repeatedly to distract her, she said.

Detectives with the Burglary/Fraud Team at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station are looking for three men in connection with three separate incidents at different grocery stores.

During each of the reported incidents, a thief lifted the wallet from the purse of an elderly shopper while two other thieves distracted the woman.

The scam, however, failed to work on a local woman proud to have been born on the fourth of July, 1924.

"I was in the ice cream aisle because I wanted to get some ice cream and I was looking at the different flavors of ice cream, when all of a sudden a man appeared on my left," she said recently in a clear, strong unwavering voice.

Her purse, she said, remained in the cart on the child seat.

"He had a half gallon of ice cream in his hand and he asked me - on account of cholesterol - how much fat was in the ice cream," she said. "He pointed to the chocolate ice cream and asked about the fat and I told him.

"I wasn't paying (strict) attention because on my right was suddenly another man and he wanted to put ice cream in my cart," she said. "All the time, I had my hand on my purse. When he put the ice cream in my cart, I said ‘No' and I said ‘Go away.'"

The alert octogenarian turned around and started walking toward the cash register to report the incident when she noticed the men were nowhere in sight.

"The (first) man had already disappeared," she said, and added she then continued with her shopping.

The shopper said the men then reappeared when she made her way to another aisle.

"I wanted to get some Ensure and I was looking at the different flavors," she said, when the second man - whom she described to detectives as standing about 5 feet tall - reappeared.

"He came towards me and was standing in front of the Ensure because there are different flavors," she said, saying the shorter man held up a six-pack of Ensure and began speaking to her in broken English.

"He asked me if I spoke Spanish and said ‘I help you. I help you' and I said ‘No. Go away.'"

The woman, upset by the continued pestering, reported the ordeal to a clerk at the cash register.

"I told the clerk two men were bothering me," she said.

When she turned to point them out, however, they were gone.

"I didn't put two and two together until I read the story in The Signal," she said, referring to an article in Thursday's paper about the wallet-lifting thieves.

At that point, she said, she called the investigating detective.

Sheriff's Sgt. James Anderson of the Sheriff's Station's Burglary/Fraud Team said the woman did the right thing hanging onto her purse.

"We're getting the word out there," he said, expressing nothing but praise for the 81-year-old woman.

"She reminds other shoppers of what they're supposed to do," he said, referring to her constant attention to her purse.

"With these two guys, one asked her about ice cream while the other one wanted to get at her purse," Anderson said. "She was like ‘Leave me alone.' They even tried on a second aisle.

"I'm confident they'll be either caught or stop doing it - either way, it's a win for us."

On Aug. 7, a woman was grocery shopping when she was distracted by someone who appeared to be another shopper.

While she was being distracted, she looked away from her purse, which she had left in the shopping cart.

Another suspect walked up and stole her wallet from her purse, Lt. Brenda Cambra reported Wednesday.

Two similar thefts were reported to have also occurred at different stores including Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons as the day went on.

Two of the suspects are described as Hispanic males, 5-foot-7 to 5-foot-9, between 35 and 40 years old, one wearing a tan-colored flat-top hat and both wearing button-up shirts.

Anyone with information on these crimes can contact Anderson at the Sheriff's Station at (661) 799-5136.


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