Deputies seek info on 'serial purse snatcher' in recent Orlando-area thefts

Deputies: Snatcher grabs woman's purse outside Publix in latest theft

CASSELBERRY, Fla. – A number of law enforcement agencies are working with the Orange County Sheriff's Office Wednesday to find a thief they're calling a "serial purse snatcher" after deputies found the SUV believed to have been used in a string of recent robberies outside grocery stores, the police department said.

The latest incident took place Sunday in the parking lot of a Publix store on State Road 436 when a 55-year-old woman had her purse snatched from her grocery cart as she was moving her bags to her vehicle, according to a police report.

[READ: Victim of purse snatching says she begged thief to 'let go']

Casselberry police said the white newer model Ford Explorer drove by while Deborah Sibille loaded the groceries with her back turned to the cart and someone in the SUV grabbed her purse before speeding off with her keys, phone, debit and credit cards.

Sibille said she tried to go after the Explorer, but she fell and hurt her leg and ribs, according to the report. She said it happened so fast that she didn't realize what was happening until shortly after her granddaughter yelled to let her know someone was reaching for the bag, but that she was able to get a good look at the snatcher before he got away.

"She screamed," Sibille said. "So I turned around and I saw the guys."

The woman told Casselberry police that the man in the passenger seat, who she described as a young Hispanic man with short hair who was wearing a black shirt, was the one who snatched the bag. She said she believes the driver was also a young Hispanic man, but said she did not get as close of a look at him.

A witness told police he didn't see the alleged snatching and that he only saw Sibille running down the aisle after the Explorer before she was hurt. 

Sibille said she lost all of her important belongings.

"Believe me, that changed my life," Sibille said. "I live in the United States for the last 23 years and I've never had problems."

The store manager told police there were no outside security cameras that could have captured the crime.

Police arrived and tried to use Sprint's location service to find the woman's phone, but that they believe the suspects may have turned it off since they couldn't locate it, the report said. 

Since the purse also had Sibille's keys inside, officers had to drive her back home to get a spare set, police said. 

Casselberry police later asked members of the community to be on the lookout for the Explorer, they wrote in the report.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office also issued an alert after two other purse snatchings were reported this month at the Publix on South Alafaya Trail. In both of those incidents, the thief is seen grabbing the purse while in the passenger seat of a moving vehicle.

News 6 spoke to 72-year-old Maralene Knaus Wednesday. She said her purse was snatched by these same guys as she was walked inside the Publix store on South Alafaya Trail after church on March 11. 

"Somebody didn’t have the right to do this for me and I’m still shaken up," Knaus said. 

She’s now warning others to be more aware and she’s now making some changes. 

"Make sure you don’t leave your purse in a shopping cart while you're putting your groceries away, keep your purse close," Knaus said. "When I need to go shopping and all that I’m going to have my husband with me."

Authorities confirm they’re working similar cases in busy parking lots in Orange County, Orlando, Maitland, Clermont and Casselberry. 

"Try to make it more difficult for someone to just come up and grab a purse," said Jane Watrel with the Orange County Sheriff's Office. 

Deputies said they believe there has been a total of seven incidents and that they're working with several other law enforcement agencies to identify the "serial parking lot purse snatcher."

Authorities confirmed Wednesday that the Explorer was found by Kissimmee police Tuesday at a welcome center on Pine Street. No suspects have been located.

The snatchings are still being investigated, authorities said. Anyone with information about the robberies could be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000, according to the above bulletin.

No other details have been released. Stay with News 6 and ClickOrlando.com for updates on this developing story.

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