Here's a preview to deter deft thefts in theaters

This Jus In...

September 04, 1998|By DAN RODRICKS

MARY TRAGESER sat down to watch "There's Something About Mary" at Loews White Marsh theater last Thursday night and, before the part where Matt Dillon gives mouth-to-mouth to Cameron Diaz's neighbor's yippy dog, nearly $6,000 in computer equipment had been purchased in Mary Trageser's name.

How did this happen?

What we have here is an example of deft theft -- and a warning to people with purses.

Mary Trageser left her purse on the seat next to hers. The lights went down and, at 6: 30 p.m., the previews and movie started. Within minutes, someone reached under or around the seat next to Trageser's and extracted three credit cards and $50 in cash from her purse. The wallet was left behind.

Trageser did not detect the theft. She and her boyfriend sat through the entire 118-minute movie. In fact, they found it hilarious, as many people have.

When the lights went up in the theater, Trageser noticed that her purse was a bit cockeyed. "But I just assumed it had slipped in the seat during the movie," she says. "The wallet was still there."

She didn't realize what had happened until she got home.

What happened was this:

Using Trageser's Visa card, someone -- revealed later in video surveillance to be a woman in a coat -- purchased $2,399 in computer equipment from the Best Buys in White Marsh, a short drive from Loews. The purchase took place at 7: 19 p.m., just 49 minutes after the screening had started.

Sixteen minutes later, at 7: 35 p.m., Trageser's MasterCard was used in the purchase of more computer equipment, this time at the Circuit City store in the Golden Ring area, a five-minute drive away. This time the bill was $3,284.

Later that night, Mary Trageser's AT&T MasterCard ended up in Philadelphia. Someone used it there several hours later for the purchase of $237 in groceries and $10 in gas.

No arrests have been made in the case.

Lt. Larry Leeson of Baltimore, who has loads of experience in property crimes, says thefts of purses, wallets and credit cards are commonplace. It happens frequently in shopping centers and supermarkets, in particular; shoppers leave wallets and purses unattended, in carts or baskets, as they select groceries. A theft in a movie theater is not entirely unusual, Leeson says, and it makes sense. Thieves need to use credit cars before they're reported stolen; stealing them from people as they watch movies in dark theaters gives the bums up to two hours -- in the case of "Gone With The Wind," nearly four hours -- to ring up charges.

In the Trageser case, Leeson was impressed by three things -- the thief's dexterous selection of the credit cards from Trageser's purse, the snappy use of them at nearby stores and the size of the purchases.

"I'm telling you about this because people should be warned," says Trageser. "Women should know this can happen. . . . I should have had my purse in my lap, I know. But on the other hand, I felt like, 'Why should I have to?' "

"My advice to women is that they not take their purses into movie theaters," says Officer Barry Sweitzer, the Baltimore County officer who handled the Trageser case. "Take an ID or credit card or cash with you in a pocket."

And, he says, stores should require more identification of persons making large purchases on credit cards.

' Everybody got that now?

Overheard

A jogger I know passed three women, one of them in a tube top, as they strutted across his path on East Baltimore Street toward The Block the other day. Joggin' Man couldn't hear everything, but he distinctly heard the oldest of the three give her colleagues this advice: "You don't get as big a tip when you keep all your clothes on."

And then there was the bulldog. He was in the second-floor window of a rowhouse in Canton the other evening, leaning out, watching the world go by. What a sight. All he needed was a cigar and a tank top.

And then there's Mike Lasky, the Psychic Friends Network genius and -- to be oxymoronic about this -- bankrupt millionaire. Lasky's Harbor Inn Pier 5 is headed for auction Sept. 18, and Big John Paterakis, the H&S bakery millionaire, is moving in for the score. Just goes to show, the psychics were right. They always said Lasky would be surrounded by dough.

Remembering Gallagher

What they said about Gene Gallagher, the former Baltimore County councilman who died Monday:

Tom Toporovich, former council secretary: "He was a champeen of the little guy, one of the few people in local government who truly understood the role of a legislator."

Gene Kibbe, former Republican councilman: "We called him 'Clean Gene.' He was very conservative in most things. His liberal bent was usually when it came to people who really needed the help of the county."

Don Hutchinson, director of the Greater Baltimore Committee and former county executive: "He was a contrarian. I got along with him well. With Gene you always knew there was always a way to come to an agreement. He wanted notice and time. Normally if you were asking him for something really important, he would ask for something back that went to the community. He understood government. His intelligence went beyond politics. I liked working with him and arguing with him. Once you had his word, you had his word. If Gene Gallagher said, 'Count on me,' you could count on him."

Pub Date: 9/04/98

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