A GROUP of boutique shop owners on East Burnside have found a creative new way to fight back against a recurrent shoplifter: crafting their own wanted poster.
The allegedly light-fingered young woman first struck Lille Boutique last October, stealing $300 worth of designer underwear. The woman, in her mid-20s and dressed in brown overalls, was chatty and friendly, taking her time to sort through the shop's merchandise. Then she went into the dressing room for a while and emerged in a hurry, wearing the stolen clothes under her regular outfit as she left.
"After she'd gone, my colleague went in and found the dressing room a total mess," says Sarah Wizemann, co-owner of the store. "There were hangers stuffed into cushions on the couch, and stuff thrown around everywhere in an effort to confuse us."
The woman allegedly stole another $305 worth of underwear, including boxer shorts and two pairs of green panties, on January 17, when Wizemann was working behind the counter.
She decided to fight back. Wizemann's colleague, Sara Yurman, drew a picture of the young woman, and the pair wrote a description about her distinctive facial scarring, squint, and pointy ears, which they circulated among their neighbors.
Shoplifting isn't new to East Burnside, says Tamara Goldsmith at the Redux boutique, who usually phones neighboring businesses to alert them when there's a thief in the neighborhood. But this thief was particularly audacious, stealing more merchandise each time, and using a getaway driver who waited at the curb in a gray Honda.
Goldsmith saw Yurman's picture but didn't make the connection straight away when the shoplifter came into her store, gathering $200 worth of jewelry and accessories into an upturned hat.
"And then her boyfriend left to wait in the car, and she ran to the front door shouting, 'Where are you going?' And I thought, this is her," says Goldsmith. "Then she jumped in the car."
Luckily, Goldsmith managed to get the car's license plate number and alerted the police, who organized a photo lineup for owners of the street's boutiques. In the meantime, the shoplifter struck again, next door.
"She had these long blonde braids down to her waist," says Diana Kim, who runs the Stand Up Comedy boutique. "I thought it was a different woman, but it turns out she was wearing a series of disguises."
Goldsmith, Kim, and Wizemann all picked the woman out from a photo lineup organized by SE Precinct Officer John Fulitano. A repeat offender who is reportedly wanted in connection with other crimes, the woman now has a warrant out for her arrest.
"People don't think shoplifting makes a difference," says Goldsmith. "But for small businesses like ours, $200 or $300 can really be crippling."