Police search for pickpockets

Pair of thieves target women in hospitals.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:49 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

One man pretends to trip while exiting an elevator as his partner steals a distracted woman’s wallet from her handbag. This trick has been used by two pickpockets at least four times in Columbia since last July.

Columbia police are searching for the two men, who dressed in suits and ties and targeted older women inside Columbia hospitals. The last two incidents occurred on April 20 at University Hospital and the University Physicians Keene Medical Building.

Capt. Brad Nelson of the Columbia Police Department said that it appears the men have targeted the victims based on their age and the accessibility of the victims’ purses. Because the two men used similar tactics successfully in all four incidents, Nelson said that the individuals don’t appear to be novice thieves.

“These people appear to be good at what they do,” he said. “They are professionals at this.”

In another distracting ruse, the men pretended to get their hands caught in a door at the top of a stairwell.

The four victims have been women 62 to 78 years old.

Nelson said the men used some of the stolen credit cards immediately after each theft. He declined to say where the cards were used or if they were used before the victims canceled their cards.

A security camera at a business in Columbia captured images of the men, who are described as being in their mid-30s or 40s, driving a red Dodge Caravan after they stole a woman’s purse on April 20, he said.

Police plan to look into whe­ther there have been similar pickpocket incidents outside Columbia and Boone County.

The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 874-8477.

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