The ‘perfect crime’ family

2014-04-25 00:00

A CHARLES Dickens-style family gang — which uses a baby, a boy and a girl thief under 10 years old — is fleecing KZN boutique businesses out of thousands every week.

And, in some cases, victims say the father causes distractions by pinching his infant to make her cry, while his eight-year-old daughter crawls behind the counter and hides the score beneath her dress.

The Witness has established that the same “upmarket-looking Indian family” of five has used an elaborate acting routine — culminating in one of their “cute” children stealing the day’s takings — at stores in Scottburgh, Durban, Umtentwini, Margate and the South Coast Mall in the past two months.

In a strategy echoed at half-a-dozen other single-proprietor stores, L-an Jansen, owner of Mr Pawnbrokers in Umtentwini, said the scam was “almost the perfect crime” — since “if you catch the thief in the act, you can’t prosecute, and the parents will just act shocked and scold the child”.

Lorraine Parsons, owner of Dorothy’s Florists in Scottburgh, said she discovered — too late — that the well-dressed group tried to scam the shoe store, cycle shop, book store and sweet shop next door before successfully stealing R6 000 from her takings and R1 000 from her credit card.

“One child knocked over a vase — the mom was all apologetic — and while I was cleaning it up and telling them not to worry, the other child was obviously around the back stealing my bag,” said Parsons. “Obviously, the first concern is what’s being done to these young children — it’s a very organised routine. But I’ve spoken to many other owners who’ve been targeted by the same family, and they are clearly brazen.”

Parsons said the woman pretended to amass expensive purchases at all four stores on Scott Street, while the man bounced a two-year-old baby on his hip and one or two children around eight years old edged closer to the counter.

She said the family timed their scam to a minute before closing time — with no other customers in the store — with a grey Opel getaway car and driver waiting outside.

“She was very specific about what she wanted to buy — two expensive vases — and after much discussion and the vase incident, they said they had to go draw cash around the corner and come back,” she said. “But then the salesman from the shoe store rushed over to say they had sped off in a car — he asked me where my bag was, and I looked and it was gone.”

Last month, The Witness reported how the same family — this time, without the daughter — stole over R100 000 in privately owned jewellery from the safe behind Andrew’s Manufacturing Jewellers in Margate.

While the mother demanded the owner’s full attention with “purchases” of watches, tanzanite earrings and a white-gold necklace, a boy the owner estimated to be six snuck into the rear and plundered the open safe.

Owner Andrew Christensen said the jewels — some cherished family heirlooms — were owned by his customers, and that he had since had to break the news that they were gone.

“It was tough to make those calls — people were upset, but most were understanding,” he said.

Jansen said the same family — also, driving a grey car — had ripped him off in February.

He said he was distracted by the father comforting a noisy baby — “it was as if he was making her cry” — when the family made their move. He said CCTV footage showed the “daughter” crawling on all fours into his office, where “she found my wallet and put it down the front of her pants, under her dress”.

“You could see the girl gesturing to the man who then acknowledged to her they were done, and they left the store, saying they’d be back to make the purchase and could I reserve it for them,” he said.

“They were looking at high-end items — an expensive guitar and amplifier, which the woman said was for a birthday.”

Comparing the family to the Dickens stories of 19th century London, he said, “Look at what they’re teaching their kids — it’s horrifying.”

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