Necklace thieves go for the gold in St. Paul

  • Article by: MARY LYNN SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 28, 2010 - 10:32 PM

St. Paul police say young men are ripping jewelry from victims' necks in broad daylight.

That gold that glitters around your neck may make you an easy mark for some brazen St. Paul thieves.

Young men are walking up to their victims in broad daylight and grabbing gold chains off their necks.

"They're bold and they're fast," said St. Paul Police Department spokesman Andy Skoogman.

Kia Song said her mother was taking recycling items to the curb outside her home in the Phalen-Payne neighborhood when a man walked past her. "He turned around, showed her his phone and said it wasn't working," Song said, explaining that her mother doesn't speak much English. "He then just snatched the chain off her neck and ran off. She was afraid and shocked."

The heart pendant and gold chain were probably worth about $500, Song said. The loss upset her mother.

"This neighborhood is pretty safe," she said. At least until this happened.

"A lot of people I know have stopped wearing their gold necklaces," said Song, who doesn't wear one herself.

Police said the rash of gold necklace thefts began about three months ago, all occurring during the day in public places. "There's really no consistent pattern," Skoogman said. One victim was walking to work; another was waiting at a bus stop. One victim, a vendor at a farmers market on University Avenue, was assisting a customer when the thief yanked off her necklace and ran.

"We think they work in small groups, and oftentimes there's a getaway vehicle," Skoogman said.

Police arrested three people Tuesday in connection with some of the thefts and have charged one man, 20-year-old Tarris Trapes of St. Paul, in connection with at least one theft. "We believe there's more than one group out there doing this," Skoogman said, noting that there seems to be no connection between Trapes, who was arrested Saturday, and the three people arrested Tuesday.

"We've had similar snatch-and-grab thefts in the past," Skookgman said.

Two years ago, young Hmong men preyed on unsuspecting Hmong residents, who opened their doors only to find themselves victims when the men entered their homes and pulled jewelry from their necks before fleeing. Police became concerned when the home invasions became more violent, with one victim being struck in the face.

No one has been seriously hurt in the recent rash of necklace thefts, police said.

But the thieves may be becoming more brazen, Skoogman said. The latest victim was a man who was walking with a woman when he was robbed, he said.

The motive for the gold grab is simple: money, Skoogman said. One woman lost a necklace valued at between $1,500 and $2,000, he said.

Local pawnshop operators say the price of gold has gone up steadily, from about $1,000 an ounce for pure gold to about $1,300 over the past year.

But a crook who pawns a purloined necklace is betting against the odds. Pawn operators record detailed descriptions of the items and detailed information on the person selling the item.

St. Paul police eventually caught up with Trapes after he and two other males fled from a vehicle that police attempted to stop three hours after a necklace was stolen. Although the men were gone, police found a pawn slip for a gold necklace with Trapes' name on it. The necklace was traced back to a victim who was robbed earlier this month and she identified Trapes from a photo lineup.

With more suspects likely to be still on the loose, Skoogman said police are warning people who wear gold jewelry to be more careful and aware of their surroundings.

Or, just tuck the gold jewelry away for now.

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788

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