Two arrested in purse snatching ring

  By Abby Morris-Frye
star staff
amorris@starhq.com
  Two people thought to be involved in a purse snatching ring linked to at least four thefts in Elizabethton last week have been arrested.
  According to a press release issued by the Elizabethton Police Department, detectives in the EPD Criminal Investigations Division were able to identify two of the suspects in the thefts and arrested them Tuesday.
  Melody L. Davis, 38, and Lawrence Anthony Murphy, 45, both of 202B South Hills Dr., were arrested in connection with the thefts, which occurred at Wal-Mart and Ingle's. Davis was charged with two counts of theft over $500 and one count of theft under $500. Murphy was charged with two counts of theft over $500 and two counts of theft under $500.
  More arrests are expected in the investigation, according to EPD Capt. Mike Peters, who is over the Criminal Investigations Division.
  According to police, the group of suspects would enter local establishments and find their potential victims -- all of whom were female -- and they would distract the victim by engaging them in conversation or asking for assistance while their accomplices would then take the unattended purse or wallet.
  On Dec. 3, shortly before 10:30 p.m., a woman reported to EPD Sgt. Jack Ramsey that she had been shopping at Wal-Mart when her purse was stolen. "(The victim) advised me that while she was shopping, she was approached by two males and a female. One of the males and the female engaged (the victim) in conversation, distracting her, while the other removed her purse from her shopping cart and fled," states Ramsey in his report on the incident. "(The victim) said that she was still talking to the female when she noted that her purse was missing and made a statement to that effect. At that time, she said, the female, who was holding a massager, dropped the massager and fled as well."
  The victim was able to provide police with descriptions of the three suspects. Police also recovered a video tape from surveillance cameras located in Wal-Mart which showed the theft of the woman's purse. "From the footage we observed on that video, and the cameras covering the entrance and exit to the business, we saw that there appeared to be five subjects involved in the theft," states Ramsey in his report.
  According to a report by EPD Detective Matt Bowers on the incidents, when the store security video tapes were reviewed by officers, officers were able to identify Davis and Murphy due to prior encounters with the two. "Being that the identity of the defendants was known, they were subsequently interviewed at the Elizabethton Police Department Criminal Investigation Division and gave voluntary statements that they in fact had committed the thefts," Bowers states in his report.
  Peters stated that while incidents of purse or wallet snatching occur year-round, such thefts occur more frequently around this time of year. "It happens all the time but it occurs more around Christmas because more people are out shopping and there are more potential victims," he said.
  Women especially should exert more caution when shopping, Peters said, recommending that women keep their purses closed or zipped so that their wallet is not exposed and they should also not leave their purses unattended, even for a second. Peters said that he highly recommends that women carry their purse on their person rather than placing it in the buggy.
  "Keep your purse secured to your person when leaving the store and don't leave packages in plain view in the car; secure the items in the trunk," Peters said. "Don't let someone distract you because it only takes a second for someone to steal your purse."
  According to Peters, the investigation into the incidents is ongoing and more arrests are expected and further charges are pending. Murphy and Davis are scheduled to appear in General Sessions Court on Dec. 14.