Victoria heists may be linked to Alberta arrests
Exotically clad group that was stopped in Hinton raises suspicions of theft ring
Special to the Globe and Mail
June 20, 2008
VICTORIA — The arrest last week in Hinton, Alta., of eight adults travelling in three vehicles stuffed with stolen merchandise may be linked to two incidents committed by exotically clad women and their male entourage six days earlier in the Victoria area.
On June 5, “what appeared to be a band of Gypsies,” made off with $556 from the Brentwood Bay Salvation Army Thrift Store, said Constable Ondine Easson of the Central Saanich Police Service.
“When I saw them coming, I said, ‘What the heck is this?,” said store manager Valerie Noakes of the five women’s flamboyant appearance. “Are they coming from a rehearsal or are they a religious group?”
It was near closing time and she was about to lock the door, but she saw one of the five women was carrying a baby, about four months old.
“That was the diversion, the bait,” she said.
The women, decked out in flowing black dresses, wearing head scarves and speaking with accents, were led by a “very glamorous lady wearing glitzy black clothing,” Ms. Noakes said.
“These people knew what they were doing. It was like they rehearsed,” she said.
Four of the women distracted Ms. Noakes and her co-worker while the fifth found the cash in an office, all within a few minutes, Ms. Noakes said.
“I don’t know how they disappeared so fast,” said Ms. Noakes, who has worked for the Salvation Army for 15 years.
Thirty minutes later, about 10 kilometres away, a group who “matched the Gypsy description,” struck again, said Sidney/North Saanich RCMP Corporal Chris Swain.
Several men and women entered a convenience store, distracted the lone clerk and made off with more than $2,000 worth of cigarettes.
And three hours earlier, a total of seven men and women dressed in “Gypsy clothing” entered Victoria Food and Florist store, said Victoria Police Department spokesperson Sergeant Grant Hamilton.
Some distracted the owner while others tried to enter the owner’s residence, which is attached to the store, police say.
They were foiled when the owner’s Chihuahua raised an alarm.
In the Hinton case, eight men and women were charged with possession of stolen property and are in jail in Edmonton, awaiting court appearances in Hinton, 270 kilometres west of Edmonton, said Sergeant Brenda Burns of the Hinton RCMP.
It can’t be confirmed that the Hinton and Victoria incidents are related, Sgt. Burns said.
But two women and one man from the Hinton group will be returning to Ontario where there are warrants for their arrests, Sgt. Burns said.
The group, totalling nine adults and eight children, aged one to eight, who spoke Romanian, had stopped illegally for the night on the road in Jasper National Park, Sgt. Burns said.
During the night, the Jasper RCMP “kicked them out.”
“They were a suspicious group of travellers,” Sgt. Burns said.
The Jasper RCMP alerted the Hinton RCMP, who intercepted the three vehicles on the morning of June 11.
Inside the two Dodge vans and 2005 Ford Mustang, all three with B.C. licence plates and possibly rental vehicles, police discovered more than $5,000 worth of clothing, shoes and electronics, including new and used cellphones and computers, Sgt. Burns said.
“It was an abundance of property,” she said.
While eight of the adults are in jail, the ninth, a male, is looking after the eight children.
Names of the charged have not been released.