Con suspect nabbed

2012-07-09 00:00

VIGILANT newspaper readers swung into action this weekend as they found themselves face to face with a woman they suspected was the alleged con artist wanted for ripping off elderly people.

This led to a woman being arrested in the Pietermaritzburg central business district on Saturday morning as she tried to sell three coins, which police believe may have been stolen goods.

She is expected to appear in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court today.

Readers had linked her to a photograph published in Weekend Witness with an article headlined “Is this the charming con lady?”.

The first of the readers to put two and two together was a resident of a complex in Prestbury, who encountered a woman who had managed to enter the premises at around 9 am.

“When she recognised her from a newspaper publication she locked the gate,” said a source.

“Then she called the police. I think [the suspect] overheard the conversation as the woman was on the phone with the police.

“Then she jumped off an enormous wall and ran off down the road. I don’t know how she did it.”

The tenant was hysterical, according to the source.

Two hours later, a silent panic alarm at the B-Secure security company alerted guards that something was wrong at an antique shop in the CBD.

Minutes before, senior control room operator at the company, Elton Premchand, had read about the alleged con woman in Weekend Witness.

B-Secure spokesperson Rakesh Mahabeer said: “Control room operators on duty immediately dispatched an armed response officer to the store. At the same time we phoned the client to investigate the type of problem at the store. She answered the telephone and put it down immediately.”

When the reaction officer arrived at the store, he too linked the woman to the photograph in the newspaper.

“After learning about the incident through the The Witness, when we saw the photo … the reaction officer quickly identified her …” he added.

The woman was immediately apprehended as she tried to head for the door.

Mahabeer said police arrived swiftly.

“They were right there to put her properly in the back of the van.”

According to Mahabeer, the alleged con woman was on foot and alone.

The owner of the store, who did not want his name or store to be identified, told The Witness he had been on leave on Saturday when he received a call from his employee.

“My staff saw the article … I then got a call that she was in the store to sell some goods. I arrived at the scene and I identified her,” said the shop owner.

He said the suspect had three coins, one a Victorian silver coin worth about R300, and two others with no value. She was trying to trade them in.

Provincial police spokesperson Captain Thulani Zwane confirmed the incident.

Police believe they have a solid case against the woman whom they detained at the Camperdown police station.

Last week The Witness reported how the suspect had struck at retirement homes in and around Pietermaritzburg, posing as a pollster conducting a survey among the aged and robbing them of their possessions.

At Evergreen Retirement Village a handbag was allegedly stolen from the bedroom of a 75-year-old resident.

Evergreen’s manager John Pratt said yesterday he was very pleased about the arrest.

“Residents here have been saying they hope she doesn’t escape again.”

Police said that the suspect had escaped from police in the past when brought in for questioning about other alleged thefts under false pretences.

She also failed to comply with bail conditions set by a court after being arrested for malicious damage to property and attempted murder in relation to her escape in January from police custody, during which she allegedly tried to run over officers in her car.

• gabisile.ngcobo@witness.co.za

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