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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Walmartology: Crimes in Consumerland 7

January 2012
Houston, Texas

     The Houston Police arrested three shoplifters, a man and two women, who had walked out of three Houston Walmarts with $20,000 worth of merchandise. The thieves swiped small, high-dollar items such as electric razors and nonprescription drugs and merchandise in the pharmaceutical section of the store such as Prilosec, Rogaine, Whitestrips, and Claritin. The suspects smuggled the loot out through the home-and-garden centers where they passed the items though a hole in the fence to an accomplice. If it hadn't been for the surveillance cameras they may not have been caught. The fact they managed to leave the stores so easily with so much merchandise makes one wonder how many Walmart shoplifters are not apprehended. These were not sophisticated heists.

January 2012
Union Township, Pennsylvania

     In western Pennsylvania not far from the Ohio line, police arrested three shoplifters who had stolen thousands of dollars worth of merchandise from Walmart and two other box stores in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Like the thieves in Houston, they loaded up shopping carts with small, high-priced items, and wheeled the stuff to the closed lawn and garden departments where they passed the loot to an accomplice through broken fences.

       You don't have to be a retail security practitioner to realize these stores have weak loss prevention programs. Customers who take merchandise through the cash out counter instead of holes in fences, end up paying for the shoplifted stuff. As long as stores can pass the cost along to paying customers, there is no incentive to spend money on retail security.

February 2012
Bremen, Georgia

     A security camera in this west Georgia Walmart caught a homicide parolee attempting to kidnap a 7-year-old girl browsing in the toy section of the store. The would-be victim, Brittney Baxter, kicked herself from the grasp of 25-year-old Thomas A. Woods of Austell, Georgia. After the girl broke free, Woods ran out of the store. (He got out of prison in October 2011 after serving time for killing is uncle in 2004.)

     Arrested shortly after the failed abduction (and who knows what), and charged with attempted kidnapping, Woods insisted that he had not committed any crime. While Mr. Woods is presumed innocent under the law, if he is the man in the security video, he is guilty as hell. In his case, parole was not a good idea.

January 2012
Cheswold, Delaware

     On New Year's Day, around 11:15 P.M., two men and a woman entered the Walmart store and removed assorted items of jewelry from a display case. Three days later, the trio returned to the store at two in the morning, and stole more jewelry from the display case. In all, the thieves walked off with $3,000 in merchandise. Again, where was the retail security? Aren't display cases supposed to be locked? Don't they have to be opened from the employee side of the case? Where were the clerks (or whatever they are called at Walmart)? I'm thinking these thieves may have had a little inside help.

January 2012
Portage Township, Ohio

     At 4:50 A.M. on Wednesday, January 18, police and firefighters rolled onto the Walmart parking lot to find an Audi sedan fully engulfed in flames. After extinguishing the blaze, firefighters discovered, on the driver's side, the body of a fatally burned man. The driver's side front door was open, and the victim lay partially outside of the vehicle. While the body was burned beyond recognition, the car registration and other identification indicators suggested that the victim was an employee who was scheduled to start work that morning at 5 A.M.

     Following a fire scene investigation by a state fire marshal, the sheriff of Ottawa County told reporters that the authorities did not suspect foul play. While the Lucas County Coroner had not determined the cause of death, the sheriff referred to the event as a "tragic accident."

     Having taught arson investigation, I know that when a vehicle sitting in a parking lot bursts into flames so suddenly the driver has no time to exit the car, it is a highly unusual fire, one that demands a detailed explanation. Most automobile fires that are sudden and intense, and all consuming, are incendiary blazes aided by an accelerant. Accidental car fires not caused by traffic accidents are usually slow burning, smoldering affairs. In my opinion, immediately ruling out any form of foul play in this case was premature.

January 2012
South Jordan, Utah

     In another strange Walmart parking lot blaze, four 13-year-old boys came upon a woman on the ground next to her car with her foot on fire. One of the boys used his coat to smother the flames. Police, responding to the 911 call, rushed the woman to the University of Utah Hospital's burn unit. She had serious burns on her foot and leg.

     This fire victim, a heavy smoker, had been wearing jeans over a pair of nylons. Once the ash from her cigarette burned through her jeans to the flammable nylons, they ignited and produced a suddenly intense fire.

February 2012
West Whiteland Township, Pennsylvania

     On Wednesday, February 15, a 6-foot-4-inch, 300 pound man from Downingtown named Verdon Lamont Taylor, parked his car in the Walmart lot, climbed out of his vehicle, took off all of his clothing, and entered the store. Customers gave the 32-year-old man wide birth as he casually walked up to a counter and put on a pair of stolen socks.

     Police arrived to take the big, naked man (except for the socks) into custody. When Mr. Taylor refused to go along with the program, and spit on one of the officers, they let him have it with a stun gun. The device did its job, and the big man was led out of the store in handcuffs. (The spitting suggests schizophrenia.)

     Mr. Taylor has been charged with indecent exposure (if there were a felony version of this offense it would be appropriate here), aggravated assault, simple assault (spitting on a cop), retail theft (the socks), and disorderly conduct (shopping while nude). The suspect, who did not post his $50,000 bail, is incarcerated in the Chester County Jail.       

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