The striking sequence of events was captured on video.
A thief jumped out of a car Sunday as a woman packed shopping bags into the trunk of her vehicle in a parking lot outside the Hmong Village Shopping Center in St. Paul. The man approached the woman from behind and snatched her purse, throwing her to the ground.
The thief then got back into a car with his accomplice and drove off, unaware that the woman's arm had gotten stuck in her purse strap. They dragged her for nearly 75 yards before they hit the brakes and she broke free, St. Paul police spokesman Steve Linders said.
The woman suffered "pretty significant" bumps, bruises and scrapes, Linders said, but was not seriously injured. The suspects got her purse, which contained money she had saved for the holidays.
"The video is quite shocking, and unfortunately it's not the only case that we've seen like this," Linders said.
St. Paul police shared surveillance video of the incident Thursday as they asked the public for help in finding a group of men they suspect are responsible for at least 20 robberies in the past month — including the one Sunday and two more that happened Wednesday night.
The group has used the same tactics in the rash of robberies, Linders said. The thieves target women who are 40 or older, alone and carrying a purse or handbag. They pull up in a stolen car behind the women before jumping out and ripping their purses away.
In cases where the women fought back, Linders said, the thieves punched them or threatened them with a gun.
The male suspects in every case are described as 15 to 30 years old and wearing hooded sweatshirts or hats to hide their faces.
Police in neighboring Maplewood believe the purse snatchers are behind two recent robberies in the parking lot of Maplewood Mall and a nearby strip mall. In the first case, on Dec. 11 near Kohl's, and the second Dec. 13 at Birch Run Station, victims were pushed or fell to the ground when their purses were taken. One victim reported seeing a red sedan drive away after her purse was stolen, but she did not see the suspect because she was pushed from behind, police said.
The Maplewood cases are similar to those in St. Paul, Cmdr. Dave Kvam said.
"We have a working theory they are the same suspects," he said, but added that evidence so far is insufficient to connect them. In both Maplewood cases, the victims were women in their 40s who were carrying purses and coming or going from stores.
Police ask anyone with information on the St. Paul cases to call 651-266-5650. In Maplewood, they can call 651-249-2600.
Anyone who has had a purse snatched away or had someone attempt to steal their purse should call 911 immediately.
Police suggest that women who shop alone keep their purses hidden or avoid carrying one at all by taking only what they need with them and putting those items in a pocket.
"We are increasing patrols in areas where people are shopping and they're going to be very visible. People can be vigilant by being aware of their surroundings, trying to always have someone else with them," Linders said.