Purse snatchings at Guilford Big Y, Stop & Shop in Madison, North Haven BJ’s linked, police say

SHORELINE — Three separate incidents of purse snatching, two along the shoreline and one in North Haven, may have been perpetrated by the same individuals, according to police.

The May 15 incidents occurred in the parking lots at Guilford’s Big Y, Madison’s Stop & Shop and the BJ’s Wholesale Club in North Haven.

“We believe that same crew was here,” said Guilford Police Chief Butch Hyatt.

“They hit North Haven and they hit a couple towns here on the shoreline,” he said. “They were all kind of linked to each other. We’re pulling video, but I think the modus operandi and description of vehicle all match.”

The North Haven police posted a video of the incident, which took place at 3:05 p.m. in the BJ’s parking lot on Universal Drive, to their Facebook page. The victim was an 84-year-old woman, police said.

“This video shows just how fast and easy some people can become victims of crimes,” North Haven police wrote in a Facebook post accompanying the video.

“Purse snatchings are crimes of opportunity,” the police wrote. “These criminals prey on females shopping alone, and the elderly.”

Madison police Capt. Douglas Harkins said the Madison incident was “very similar” to the North Haven occurrence. 

“She stated she was placing her groceries in the back of her trunk when a black Hyundai Tucson drove directly behind her,” he read from the police report. “A male in the backseat of the vehicle reached out of the window, taking the purse that was in the complainant’s shopping cart and drove away.”

Madison resident Dana Garitta, who saw the car, was exiting the grocery store as “a black SUV came flying around the corner, almost at me — I had to kind of jump back and not be in the road — and it just had the gas pedal floored and came right at me,” she recalled.

“It had all its windows down, looked like a couple guys in there,” she said. “I saw at least two in the front, one in the back. They had hoodie sweatshirts on and they just went flying by me and then took a right and sped out of the parking lot.”

It wasn’t until she heard a woman yelling that she realized what had happened, she said.

“I’m just locking everything and bringing my purse everywhere and holding it under my shoulder and I’m not putting it in the cart anymore,” she said.

“So, it’s definitely changed me,” she said. “It’s a huge wakeup call.”

In addition, a purse was grabbed from a vehicle while the driver was filling up with gas at Guilford’s Shell station at Exit 57 about two weeks ago.

“Guys in a stolen car, the woman was pumping her gas, they pulled up next to her car, the passenger door was unlocked, they opened it, grabbed her pocketbook and drove off,” said Hyatt.

Hyatt said this crime is not unique to the shoreline. “It’s not one small group, this is something that’s happening regionally it’s across the state,” he said.

“Today they’re stealing a pocketbook out of a car, tomorrow they’re stealing a car out of somebody’s driveway, the next day they’re involved in a shooting down in one of the bigger cities,” he said. “They’re involved in a lot of different criminal activities is what we’re seeing.”

Police shared tips on how to prevent being a victim of this type of crime, including using a crossbody bag that hangs across the chest; refraining from placing a purse in a shopping cart; and placing the purse in the front seat of car and unlocking only the rear of the vehicle as groceries are loaded. 

Harkins also advised people to park in well-lit parking lots and “if possible, shop with someone. Usually, if there is someone there with you, you’re not an easy target.”

“Always be vigilant,” he said. “Always report if you see a suspicious vehicle circling the parking lot. I think that’s what we’re seeing now.”

“You see cars driving around and around and around that might be looking for an opportunity for somebody coming out of the grocery store and then swooping in when they’re distracted by putting groceries in the back of their car,” he said.

The incident in the Big Y parking lot in Guilford was not reported until a day later.

There were no injuries in the Madison or Guilford incidents, according to police. No one has been arrested for the crimes, and state statue prohibits police from engaging in pursuit if it’s a property crime, police said.

While neither of these incidents involved a confrontation, if it escalates to that, Harkins advice is to give up the purse. “No one’s property is worth someone’s physical safety.”

Hyatt said that his department “cautions people from confronting” the offender.

“They may have weapons and they’re likely to do what they have to do so that they can get away,” he said. “I know you want your property back but it’s not worth getting injured or killed over it.”

Madison police said they are increasing their patrols.

“I’ve seen police all around town the past few days,” said Garitta. “That’s alarming, too.” She said she feels a certain level of comfort in the police presence, “but it’s not the way I want to live.”

Both Harkins and Hyatt said people need to be aware of their surroundings and keep alert to try and avoid this type of crime.

“I think it’s a crime of opportunity and I think if people are vigilant and they don’t give them that opportunity, I think they’ll be OK,” Harkins said.

Hyatt advised “good situational awareness, because people are looking for people who are just going about their business in a normal fashion and they’re seizing that opportunity to commit the crimes.”

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