Thieves Expand Their Horizons, Yet Again

Michael Panzner
updated | Author's Website

Time for the latest installment of “If we’re in a recovery, why are people stealing everything that isn’t nailed down?” As I’ve noted previously — here, here, and here, for example — the past few years have seen a notable uptick in the breadth and depth of unusual items that have been targeted by thieves. As the following reports suggest, that trend seems to be continuing, unabated:

Cosmetics

“Pair Accused of Pocketing, Reselling $20K in Perfume, Cosmetics” (Washington Post)

The young women walked so quickly, grabbed items from the shelves so confidently, that employees at the Glenarden J.C. Penney might have thought they were out shopping for Mother’s Day.

Except this was their second trip to the store that day. And Mom probably did not ask for $20,000 in perfume and makeup.

The women, police said at a news conference Friday, were professional shoplifters — bit players in an organized ring of cosmetically-inclined thieves. Three and four times a day, police said, Darquesha Wilkinson, 19, and Latasha Mungo, 24, both of the District, would walk into department stores across the region, swipe high-end perfume, lotions and makeup, then sell them on the streets at a discount, often out of the trunks of their cars. And until Tuesday — when a J.C. Penney loss-prevention employee recognized the pair as suspects in previous shoplifting incidents — they hadn’t been charged there, blending in with other shoppers because they were charming and well-dressed, police said.

“That’s what they do. This is their job,” said Sgt. Aubrey Thompson, who heads the Prince George’s County Police’s Organized Retail Crime Unit. “It only takes them but 30 seconds.”

Grave markers

“‘Pathetic’ Thieves Take Minnesota Vets’ Markers” (StarTribune.com)

Bronze stars are disappearing from the graves of so many Minnesota soldiers that some veterans officials are urging families to place the memorial markers at home instead of in the cemetery.

In Isanti County alone, more than 200 stars have disappeared from three local cemeteries in recent weeks and similar thefts — presumably carried out by crooks who plan to sell the stars for scrap — have plagued veterans’ graves in Anoka County.

“It’s really unfortunate that there are people among us who are so cowardly that they prey on the people who have demonstrated the greatest bravery,” Anoka spokeswoman Martha Weaver said. “That’s really pathetic.”

Airbags and catalytic converters

“Car Thieves Are Increasingly Looting for Oddball Parts” (MSN Autos)

Airbags and catalytic converters containing precious metals are all the rage on the automotive black market.

In the dark of night a few weeks ago in Santa Monica, Calif., thieves made off with so many parts — including the airbags — from a 9-year-old Honda Accord that the car was declared totaled. In Detroit, there’s been a spike in the number of catalytic-converter thefts of late; looters are lured by the precious metals contained in the parts, which can fetch as much as $150 from scrap yards, according to the Detroit News.

Along with catalytic converters and airbags, thieves have recently begun coveting auto parts such as tires, rims and navigation systems and hawking them on the black market. According to Detroit’s CBS affiliate, the culprits responsible for stealing these oddball car parts are increasingly turning to Craigslist and other online sales outlets to unload them.

One possible reason for this burst in car-part-stealing creativity is that technology has made it more difficult to make off with an entire car. So, instead, thieves simply target individual parts. A catalytic converter, for instance, can be jacked in a few minutes by thieves who roll beneath a vehicle with a battery-powered saw and make a few cuts.

Religious items

“Metal Thieves Steal Fresno Church Cross” (UTSanDiego.com)

FRESNO, Calif. — Metal thieves used a sledgehammer to smash a California church stained-glass window and steal a cross and other religious items.

Fresno police say they have recovered most of the items taken from St. Therese Roman Catholic Church.

Father Michael Burchfield says the thieves broke into the church earlier this month and ripped off metal fasteners from priest vestments.

Also taken was a 2-foot cross that contained a splinter from the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.

Plants

“Gardener: Thieves Stole $1,000 Worth Of Plants From 2 Mpls Gardens” (WCCO)

MINNEAPOLIS — The tough economy may have turned thieves to steal a different kind of green.

Somebody stole plants and planters — worth more than $1,000 — from two yards in the south Minneapolis.

Abby Rutchick has lived on her tree-lined street in Linden Hills for more than 30 years.

“You can kind of tell we’re all gardeners and spend a lot of time out here,” she said. “And really enjoy it, it’s a passion.”

Sometime between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., somebody stole dozens of plants and planters from her front yard.

Rutchick discovered the thefts when she opened the door Wednesday morning.

“Came out and looked a little further to see all my planters were gone, and everything that was in the pot is gone,” Rutchick said. “It still looks very full, but we know everything that’s missing.”

She says the thieves seemed to know what they were doing.

“These were very discerning plant thieves,” she said.

Gardening equipment

“Summer Brings Rash of Lawn Mower Thefts” (TriCities.com)

A slew of lawn equipment has gone missing, in what police said has been a rash of storage shed break-ins.

Bristol,Tenn., police have seen an increase in thefts of lawn mowers, weed trimmers, chainsaws and hedge trimmers, Capt. Charlie Thomas said. The equipment is often stored in an outdoor shed, and Thomas said the thefts have occurred all over the city, often in the early morning hours.

Scuba gear

“Dive Shop Theft Suspect Caught on Security Cameras” (WINK)

LEE COUNTY, Fla. – Investigators have released surveillance photos from a May 10th theft at a Lee County scuba diving shop.

“We trust our customers, I love my customers, but I do have surveillance cameras throughout the entire store,” said ScubaVice Diving Center owner Ramiro Palma.

It’s a security measure that came in handy at the store on McGregor Boulevard, after a young man and woman came into the store on May 10.  Deputies say the woman distracted the clerk while the man grabbed a diving computer out of the display case and stuffed it down his pants.

Snack foods

“Discarded Wrappers Used to Track Snack Thieves” (Associated Press)

Police say they followed a trail of discarded wrappers to track down four people who allegedly burglarized a Little League snack bar.

La Mesa Police Sgt. Colin Atwood tells U-T San Diego (http://bit.ly/JEcEyF) that police were called late Thursday night about a lot of noise at the Rolando Little League snack bar in Rolando Park.

Atwood says officers followed empty cookie, chip and Cheetos packages for about two blocks to a home where more snacks were found in a car.

Atwood says one man, two women and a girl were arrested for investigation of burglary. The girl was taken to Juvenile Hall.

Dogs

“Pet Thefts on the Rise” (WRGB)

SCHENECTADY — A local family is desperately searching for their dog after she was taken from her home on Wednesday.

Foxy, a pomeranian, was stolen from the front porch of her family’s McClellan Street home while her owner was inside for two minutes.  A neighbor witnessed the alleged thieves, a woman and a young girl, pull up in front of the house and snatch the dog.

Authorities are encouraging pet owners to be on the lookout, as pet thefts are on the rise during summer months.  The most regular dog thieves are those who are training fighting dogs.

“They will steal other peoples dogs and actually use them for what they call ‘bait dogs,’” said Brad Shear of the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society.

The American Kennel Club tracks thefts through a national database and cite a 32% increase in 2011.

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