Turtle heist was a shell of a crime
By JUSTIN BURNETT
South Whidbey Record Island County
September 11, 2012 · Updated 2:29 PM
As tortoise heists go, it was nearly perfect.
They came in as a pair just before closing. One distracted the clerk and, when the coast was clear, the other made the grab. The operation appeared planned down to the last detail and was executed without flaw.
The alleged tortoise-nappers overlooked just one thing: Critters & Co. Pet Center in Clinton has security cameras. Not only was the entire caper caught on tape, but store owners decided to teach the thieves a lesson by posting the video online for all the world to see.
“It’s the talk of the community,” said store manager Debbie Wilkie, with a proud smile. “I can’t go anywhere without being hit up about what happened to the tortoises.”
The three missing reptiles, each about three months old and about three inches in diameter, are believed to have been taken about two weeks ago on Aug. 29. Store clerks say they remember seeing them in their cage that afternoon shortly before closing up shop at 6 p.m.
“They were there when I left, I thought,” said Jessica Dunn, the daughter of the shop’s owners.
She was woken the next day by her mother asking, “Where are the tortoises?” The mystery was soon solved by the store’s security recording. It showed a man and woman who appeared to be working together to steal the tortoises from their cage at the front of the store about 10 minutes before closing.
The man asked one of two store clerks to help him with feeder fish in the back while his alleged accomplice, taking a quick look around to be sure Dunn was also busy with other customers, swiped the reptiles and made for the door.
“He did the sidetracking and she did the taking,” Wilkie said.
According to Detective Ed Wallace, spokesman for the Island County Sheriff’s Office, investigators reviewed the tape and made several attempts to contact the couple but were unsuccessful.
Officers ended up mailing them criminal citations, which requires both to show up before a judge in Island County District Court. Failure to appear would result in a warrant for their arrest.
Although the tortoises have not been recovered, Wallace said the investigation is all but over. Valued at $100 apiece, the couple can’t be charged with anything more than a misdemeanor crime as felony theft starts at $750.
“The bottom line is this is shoplifting,” Wallace said. “With our budget the way it is... I know people down there were upset they weren’t arrested and taken to jail but our jail is full of felons.”
The lack of action by law enforcement has been frustrating for store staff. Shoplifting is a real problem and merchants calling police is one of the few actions they can take to fight back.
“You almost feel stuck, like you can’t do anything,” Wilkie said.
Posting the video online, www.facebook.com/critters.petcenter, was their attempt to take a more aggressive approach toward shoplifters and let would be offenders know it will not be tolerated.
So far it’s had exactly the effect they had hoped for.
The community is abuzz over the incident and other merchants have been alerted to the alleged shoplifters, Wilkie said. People have gotten so fired up that some have even called in to report the couple’s whereabouts in the hopes they might be apprehended.
“People came in just livid mad,” Wilkie said.
It’s an inventive and drastic step, but one of the only ones they have. The total dollar value of the crime may not be much when it comes to the law, but it’s a big hit for a tiny mom-and-pop pet shop.
“We’re such a small business, $300 is something,” Dunn said.Contact South Whidbey Record Island County Justin Burnett at email@example.com.