Elaine Christy believes it was an innocent-looking dog walker who snatched up her ID and credit cards from her car while she walking her own dog earlier this month on a wooded county trail in northern St. Mary’s County.
Christy, 77, said she had not realized her cards were missing until later, when she recalled that she had been on a routine Saturday afternoon walk with her dog at John V. Baggett Park in Mechanicsville and left her purse in her car, which she said was locked.
With the door locked, and only a few people at the park that day, she had assumed her valuables would be safe.
But later on she realized her license, social security card and four credit cards had gone missing. Suspiciously, the perpetrator left the whole purse and cash, and only went for the cards.
“It was very upsetting. I was thinking about how vulnerable we all are,” Christy said. “If they can rob your purse in broad daylight, what else can they do?”
While contacting police and going through the long process of getting all the cards replaced, Christy thought back to that day, and remembered there had been a woman sitting in a van. At the time, she thought it was strange that she had just been sitting in her car on such a nice day.
Now, she suspects the woman was working as a team with another woman at the park, who had been walking her dog close to Christy while on the phone with somebody.
“They were professionals,” she said.
St. Mary’s sheriff’s Capt. David Yingling said car thefts are one of the most common crimes they respond to in areas like parks and residential neighborhoods, but most of the time the doors are unlocked.
He said a lot of the time, the sheriff’s office will get about 15 to 20 reports at a time in the same neighborhood, as many thieves tend to go down an area where there are a lot of vehicles and try as many door handles as possible.
“It is very rare that we have someone actually break into a car [that’s locked], break into a window,” he said.
The big two tips are to “lock your doors and hide your valuables,” he said.
Sheriff’s office spokesperson Cpl. Julie Yingling said taking care of valuables in vehicles is important, especially as parks become busier this spring with sports and activities.
“You don’t know who’s going through those parks,” she said, as people both drive, walk and bike in and out, especially at parks like Baggett, which is connected to the Three Notch Trail.
She said on top of locking car doors, residents should make sure to put items out of sight, even if they don’t seem like high-ticket items.
“What’s not valuable to you might be valuable to them,” she said. Medication should be hidden, if not left at home.
Even if there are no perceived valuables, it’s still important to lock car doors, as people will still go through.
David Yingling said there had been a total of 51 motor vehicle break-ins reported this year, as opposed to 117 this time last year.
The big trend that the sheriff’s office is seeing a resurgence in, though, is catalytic converter thefts for precious metals.
“For someone to do that, it’s a little scary,” Christy said. “I think people should be warned not to leave their purses and wallets in the car.”