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Date of Issue: May 20, 2009

Thieves target small Island shops

A spate of recent thefts in Anna Maria Island retail stores could be the work of the same two women, and Island law enforcement officials want store clerks and owners to take precautions.

The suspects are described by police as two black, heavy-set women, middle-aged, who appear to operate as a team.

The thieves struck two stores in the BayView Plaza in Anna Maria recently, including one theft two weeks ago and one about three weeks prior at a different shop, said Sgt. John Kenney of the Manatee County Sheriff’s substation in Anna Maria.

The stores were Two Sides of Nature and SueRics.

Kenney said two women target small stores where one clerk is on duty. One woman distracts the clerk with questions about clothing or requests to see how items fit, while the other looks for the clerk’s purse or a means to open the cash drawer.

In one Anna Maria incident, the women stole the clerk’s credit cards and took cash from the drawer.

In addition to the Anna Maria thefts, two women matching the suspect descriptions went to the Island Gallery West on Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach May 11.

The theft was similar to the Anna Maria incidents, where one woman distracted the sales person while the other took the clerk’s pocket book and stole cash from the register.

Shirley Dean of Island Gallery West said the women “acted like they knew what they were doing, and already knew where the pocketbook was and where the cash was kept.”

Eric Floodberg of SueRics said the business community has to be watchful. “We need to keep our eyes and ears open and help each other,” he said.

Kenney said the MCSO got some “good DNA evidence” in one case and he’s waiting on the results to come back.

“We’re hopeful we can make an arrest,” he said.

At the same time, Holmes Beach police have gone to a number of retail shops advising clerks and owners of the recent thefts and to be on the lookout.

Lt. Dale Stephenson of the Holmes Beach Police Department said store clerks should watch for people who come in together and split up while one of them distracts the clerk.

While police said a scanning system for merchandise is helpful to prevent shoplifting, it might not work against a team of thieves looking just for cash and credit cards.

Signa Bouziane of Mister Roberts Resortwear in Holmes Beach had an incident just before Christmas in which three people entered the store and asked a lot of unnecessary questions about merchandise.

“They asked a lot of questions. We had two of us working and they got us separated, while the third person was in the back looking at merchandise,” she said.

Bouziane kept her purse in the unlocked back office.

After the trio had looked at a number of clothing items, saying they were for their grandmother in New York, they abruptly purchased a $20 T-shirt, then left quickly. Later, Bouziane discovered that her credit cards and cash had been stolen from her purse. She canceled the cards immediately.

Police were called, but the threesome had left the area, she said.

“We even have an electronic scan system,” she said. “If they had tried to steal clothing, it would have sounded. They acted like they knew what they were doing, and they probably had been in the store before. They were smart enough not to steal any items that would have triggered the alarm.”

Bouziane said the group’s actions caused her concern the longer they stayed.

“They just asked too many questions about things. My main concern was the cash register,” she said.

In a February incident at Irene’s on Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach, a woman described in the police report as a large, middle-aged, dark-skinned female entered the store and engaged the clerk in a lengthy conversation about clothing.

The owner said the woman had her going to the rear storage area several times for more items. The woman was going to check out with some large purchases, but then said she had to get her money out of the car.

The woman never returned and the owner later discovered $320 missing from the cash register, along with a check for $259.

Holmes Beach police said this incident might be related to the Anna Maria thefts.

Anyone who becomes the victim of such a crime should call their local law enforcement agency or 911, Stephenson said.

Holmes Beach police can be reached at 941-708-5804.


Crime prevention

In the wake of the recent thefts from Island retail stores, the Holmes Beach police have issued the following crime prevention tips for businesses:

  • Have at least two employees open and close the business.
  • Keep purses and personal valuables locked in desks and drawers.
  • Place surveillance cameras inside the business and place signs on the property advising of their presence.
  • Vary times and routes of travel for bank deposits. Keep a low balance in the cash register and put excess money in a safe of drop deposit.
  • Stay alert and know who is in your store and where they are. Watch for people who hang around without buying anything. Make mental notes to give law enforcement about suspicious vehicles or persons.
  • Place a mark on the front door at a certain height so a better description of a suspect can be given to police.
  • Make a plan with employees about what they are to do in case of a crime at the business.
  • Greet customers as they enter your business. Look them in the eye and ask them if they need any help.