A purse thief has been hitting churches in the Washington Metropolitan Area.
At least 10 churches in and around Bethesda, Md., have reported a bandit who walks in during Sunday church services and steals wallets and purses, 9 News Now reporter Peggy Fox told The Christian Post.
Fox said she’s a church member herself and received an email from her minister warning area Methodist churches of a purse bandit. The most recent targets were two churches in Loudoun county, Va., Dec. 11. Fox said she received a report that the thief took the minister’s keys and a wallet from a church worker’s purse at Sterling United Methodist Church after hitting Ashburn Presbyterian, both in Virginia, during Sunday services. She reported the story on WUSA 9 News.
Some churches have reported seeing the female bandit wandering hallways, walking into church offices, rifling through desk drawers for keys and using them to access locked areas where valuables are kept.
“I worry about this person, and what they are doing,” the Rev. Dr. Stephanie Nagley, of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, told the television station.
Her purse was stolen Sept. 11, as she led the 8 a.m. Sunday worship service. She had hidden it in the sacristy room, and said she heard the door to the room behind her opened as she was leaving, and she should’ve gone back to check, Fox said.
That same day, the thief walked in to nearby North Bethesda United Methodist Church during 11 a.m. services. Church member Joy Burt told Fox she had her wallet stolen out of her purse, which she left in the church kitchen. Staff member Linda Thompson told the station she thinks she saw the unfamiliar woman.
“I just said to her, ‘Can I help you?’” said Thompson, on the live report. “And she said, ‘Oh no, I’m fine.’”
However, Thompson told 9 News that she continued to keep an eye on the suspicious woman as she walked into the coffee room and loaded up on treats. Thompson said the woman then went to her car, which was parked in the handicap spot, where “she was stuffing her mouth with chocolate.” She took down the bandit’s license plate number as the woman drove away.
Floris United Methodist was hit in December 2010, Fox said, where they think they may have caught the bandit on camera. Leaders at that church told the news station they have good surveillance video of the dark-haired woman, which they turned in to police when they were hit a year ago.
“You feel vulnerable, and you feel violated that somebody is preying on folks when they come during the holiest time of the week,” the Rev. Debbie Scott of North Bethesda United Methodist, confessed to the station reporter in the live report.
“She (the bandit) is smart because she’s going in to different jurisdictions and the police are not putting the pieces together. It’s going to take others to put the pieces together,” Scott said.
Maybe police in Virginia will solve the crime, now that the purse grabber has targeted two churches in Virginia, where her license plate is from.
At Sterling United Methodist, the reverend said his private home keys were stolen, as well as the church keys on his desk, Fox told CP.
His items were stolen while he was officiating services no less, Fox exclaimed. She said that under the desk was a church member’s purse, from which the bandit stole a wallet. Another staff worker said he remembers talking to a woman who was going through his desk. Fox said the worker asked the woman if he could assist her and she replied she was leaving a note.
Fox gave a complete description of the woman to CP. The bandit is a 5’5” white woman. She is pear-shaped and has long brown hair. She usually is seen in black clothing with a big black bag. She tries to pass herself off as a fellow church attendee who is familiar with surroundings. She was last seen in a small, blue SUV with Virginia tags.
"She's a very bold thief," Fox said. "It appears she's becoming bolder and bolder!"