Four women shoppers ranging in age from 63 to 87 told police similar stories: a young white female, sometimes with a child, positioned herself near them as they shopped in Brownwood stores, sometimes making small talk.
Then, suddenly, the young woman was somewhere else — and so were the shoppers’ wallets or purses, along with the cash they contained.
Police arrested a woman Monday in connection with the theft of a purse at Wal-Mart, and she is a suspect in the other similar thefts, Assistant Police Chief Garry Page said.
“Same M.O.,” Page said.
Diana Nelson, 34, of Bangs, was booked into the Brown County Jail on a charge of theft of property under $1,500 with two or more previous convictions, jail records state. Nelson remained jailed Tuesday.
Officer Brandon Miller was dispatched to Wal-Mart at 11:46 a.m. Monday on a report that a loss prevention officer was trying to track down a purse thief.
An 86-year-old woman told Miller she had been looking at bedsheets in the linen section when she noticed a woman with a child on the same aisle. A few minutes later she realized her purse was missing from her shopping basket, and she asked other shoppers to help her find it, Miller’s report states.
Someone found the purse, abandoned in a shopping cart in a nearby aisle. The $40 the purse had contained was gone.
The loss prevention officer played surveillance video for Miller that showed the victim enter the linen area, pushing a shopping cart that held a dark object that appeared to be her purse. Another woman walked onto the aisle pushing a cart with a dark object. The woman looked inside the object.
The victim was seen walking toward the woman, her cart no longer containing a dark object. The woman turned her back to the victim and continued looking inside the object in her cart, then walked away, leaving the object behind, Miller’s report states.
The loss prevention officer was able to provide a closeup photo of the suspect as she left the store.
Officer Stephanie Morgan and Cpl. Kenyon Black arrived, and Black looked at the close-up of the suspect. Black said he’d just seen the suspect near the front doors, and the three officers went looking for her.
Miller saw the suspect at the customer service desk with $128 in her hand, preparing to send a money gram. Miller told the woman she was being detained for a theft investigation.
The suspect told Miller she didn’t know anything about the theft of a purse and had not been in the store within the last 30 to 60 minutes. She said she’d been to the store at 9 a.m. and left, then returned just before being detained.
Miller showed the suspect the close-up of her leaving the store at 11:42 a.m., which was just after the purse had been stolen. The suspect then said she wished to speak with her lawyer, and the interview ceased, Miller’s report states.
Miller believed he had probable cause to arrest the woman and took her to jail.
In the other thefts:
• Officer Zane Taylor was dispatched to Brookshire’s Friday afternoon on a report that a wallet with $100 had been stolen from an 84-year-old woman.
The woman told Taylor she was on a motorized shopping cart and had found most of the items she was looking for, but was having trouble finding the chili powder mix.
A white female with a child approached under the pretext of trying to help her find the product, Taylor’s report states. Once she found it, she had to get off the cart, turn her back to the other woman, bend over and retrieve the product from a shelf.
She turned around and noticed the same woman standing next to her. The woman asked her if she had found what she needed and then left nonchalantly. The woman on the cart realized her wallet had been taken from its spot on the floor of the cart.
• Officer Fred Bastardo was dispatched to Brookshire’s on Oct. 26, where an 87-year-old woman said her wallet with $400 had been taken from her basket.
The woman recalled that a white female in her mid-20s, accompanied by a child, had walked with the woman as she shopped, seeming to be in every aisle as the victim. She bent over to pick something up, and when she turned back to her shopping basket, her wallet was gone. The white female was a bit further down the aisle, Bastardo’s report states.
Someone found the wallet and turned it in. The wallet had $50, but the other $350 was gone.
• Bastardo was dispatched to the CVS store on Austin Avenue on Oct. 27, where a 63-year-old woman said a white female had started speaking with her as she shopped. The white female closed the distance and stood close to the victim’s shopping basket, stood at a strange angle and had access to the victim’s purse.
When the victim went to the checkout counter, she discovered her wallet, with $500, was missing from her purse. Someone found the wallet outside, the money gone.