COLUMBIA — In a span of five minutes, thieves stole more than $300 from patrons of the Golden Corral & Buffet restaurant at 3421 Clark Lane on Saturday afternoon.
In one incident, at around 2:20 p.m., two men stole a $100 bill from a couple trying to enter.
Joseph Schmidt, who was holding the bill, and Mindy Walker said a man blocked the door and demanded that they bet on a game of chance.
A second man was holding the shell game, which Schmidt said consisted of a checkered board, several bottle caps and a tiny ball. In the game, the man held the board in his hand, placed the ball under a bottle cap, shuffled the caps around and asked Schmidt and Walker to guess which cap had the ball beneath it.
Schmidt and Walker said they declined to play.
"That one guy was like, 'You have money — bet it,'" Walker said. "And we're like 'No!'"
Walker said the man in front of the door insisted that they play the game, getting very close to her face. While she and Schmidt continued to say no, they said, the man holding the game snatched the $100 bill from Schmidt's hand.
Walker said Schmidt, her boyfriend, told the man to give the money back.
"And he's like, 'No, it's ours,' " Walker said.
Walker, who said she has a cell phone with no minutes on it, said she and Schmidt went inside to call the police. She said she remembered she could call 911 from the cell phone, so she and Schmidt went back outside and called the police. By that time, the perpetrators were gone.
Officer Kevin Keith, who responded to the incident, was reviewing video from the restaurant's security cameras and wasn't available for comment. Over the scanner, police could be heard looking for a black Dodge Charger connected to the incident.
The Police Department did not immediately return calls for more information.
Walker and Schmidt said the man who blocked the door looked to be more than 35 years old and was dressed all in black. The man with the game, they said, also looked to be more than 35 years old and was dressed in a vest with red and white stripes.
They said the perpetrators had another $100 bill, plus another $100 in $20 bills.
Walker said she had written "M & J" on Schmidt's $100 bill, which she hoped might help investigators find it.
"Why I did it, I don't know," she said. "It was just silly."
After dealing with police, the couple proceeded to eat at the Golden Corral.
Minutes earlier inside the restaurant, a man stole a woman's wallet from her purse when she got up to get more food from the buffet.
The woman, Carla Kempker, said she left her purse at the table with her two daughters, ages 7 and 2, while she and her husband went to get dessert. While they were gone, Kempker said, a man unzipped the purse and took the wallet and the change she had received from the cashier.
Kempker and her daughter, Autumn, 7, said the man had sat down at a nearby table but had no food.
Kempker said the man stole about $230 in cash, plus gift cards, credit and debit cards, and Six Flags season passes that were in the wallet. She said they had planned to use the money to shop for school supplies on the tax-free weekend, but they decided to go home after the theft.
It is unclear whether the incidents Saturday are related.