Police nab grocery store purse snatchers

Anika Johnson (left) and Nori Shepherd (right) are both charged with theft.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Fort Wayne police said the quick thinking of Kroger employees helped them put two women accused of stealing purses out of carts behind bars.

“The employees, working with law enforcement, and knowing their stores have been targeted, were approached by a victim and they immediately went into action,” Michael Joyner, spokesman for the Fort Wayne Police Department, said.

According to police reports, a woman had her purse in the “child seat” area of the cart while she was shopping at the Kroger store on Bluffton Road on Monday. She was looking at eggs and when she turned around again, her purse was gone. She called out that her purse had been stolen and an employee heard her yell.

That employee knew that purse thefts had been happening at area Kroger stores and knew that the suspect vehicle description was a green station wagon. The police report said the employee saw that vehicle parked in a handicap spot in front of the store and called 911.

“We were given the vehicle description, license plate number, the number of individuals in the car, who was in the car and the direction of travel,” Joyner said. “That gave law enforcement a great lead. If they’re leaving there and an officer is here, we should intersect here and that’s what happened. Law enforcement set up and the car crossed their paths and we made a traffic stop.”

Another officer at the grocery store looked at surveillance video to confirm the people stopped in the station wagon were the same people seen leaving the store with the purse in the security video.

Anika Johnson (left) and Nori Shepherd (right) are both charged with theft.
Anika Johnson (left) and Nori Shepherd (right) are both charged with theft.

Anika Johnson was driving. Nori Shepherd was in the back seat and the purse was next to her in the car, police reports stated. Both women were arrested and charged with theft. Shepherd also has a prior theft conviction.

A man in the front passenger seat wasn’t arrested. Shepherd’s one-year-old child was also in the back seat with her and a friend came to get the child.

“The Department of Child services was also notified and it will now do its own investigation too,” Joyner said.

Police think these two women are also responsible for as many as seven similar purse thefts at Kroger stores on Pettit Avenue and West State Boulevard between October 2015 through January 7 this year.

“It would be prudent on their part, if they were involved, to admit their guilt because every store has surveillance video and we’ll be going back to look at that,” Joyner said.

Because of the other thefts, Kroger employees were already on alert.

“Whenever there is a purse grab or snatch, we turn in a police report and go to the video to see if we can determine characteristics about the suspect,” Ron Seay, Kroger’s operating division risk manager, said.

Kroger is happy their partnership with police paid off.

“It wouldn’t have worked without some of the action of the Kroger team, but it most definitely wouldn’t have worked without the cooperation of not just this one instance, but over a long period of time with law enforcement in Allen County,” John Elliott with Kroger media relations said.

Kroger stores all have security cameras, which is also a big help.

“What might be seen as expensive investments, like high definition video and staffing on security, this is a perfect reason why we make those investments,” Elliott said.

While Kroger tries to make sure customers are safe, shoppers need to take precautions too.

“Customers need to keep visual contact with their personal belongings, especially when you’re talking about debit cards and credit cards. With all the criminal element we have on the streets anymore, we need customers to be diligent about helping themselves and help us help them,” Seay said.

Elliott added that he sees purses left unattended in carts all the time.

“I’m surprised how often when I’m in a store I see someone who has their purse open in the child seat area of a basket and wandering down the aisle or even walk around to the next aisle and leave it there,” he said. “That’s a lot of temptation for someone who might have a disposition to stealing anyway.”

Police Tips to Keep Your Purse Safe:

  • Never leave your purse unattended.
  • It is strongly recommended that items such as debit cards, credit cards, cash, checkbooks, identification, vehicle and house keys be kept separate of your purse and carried on your person.
  • If you desire to carry a purse, it is recommended that you carry it with the strap over your shoulder, then place your outer coat on totally concealing the purse which remains with you the entire time.

“Whenever there’s an opportunity, a criminal will take that opportunity and run with it,” Joyner said. “Anything of value that’s not properly observed and protected is not going to be your property long.”

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