Good police work, a stroke of luck and a distinctive hairline helped Petaluma police arrest a suspected thief last week at the new East Washington Place shopping center.
Officer Dan Miller was following up Friday on a report of a lost or stolen debit card that had been used three days earlier at Target.
The victim had noticed three fraudulent charges on her card: $4.45 for a coffee, $107 for a gift card and another $239 for various items, Lt. Tim Lyons said.
Watching a security surveillance video from Target, Miller saw a “slightly balding” woman in her 30s with dark hair and a ponytail use the card to buy coffee, the gift card and another purchase, Lyons said.
The video showed the woman leaving the store after making the purchases, he said.
“The video definitely showed a high hairline, like a pattern of balding or something,” Lyons said, reading from the report.
Conducting additional follow-up, Miller went into the Kirkland's home décor store in the same complex to see if the suspect might appear in that store's video surveillance.
“As he walked into the store, he immediately recognized the cashier as the suspect who has been using the credit card from the video at Target,” Lyons said.
Miller said the clerk asked if he needed help. He made up a story and left the store to call for help. Officer David Gilman then arrived, saying he needed help with a case.
He said the clerk, identified as Jennifer N. Winters, 31, of Petaluma agreed to speak with him privately.
Winters initially acknowledged making the purchases Gilman asked about, but said they were with her bank card, Lyons said. Gilman saw a receipt for the $239 purchase, but pointed out that it was made with the victim's card, not Winters'.
Winters then admitted she'd used the victim's card to make the fraudulent charges, Lyons said. It was unclear how she'd obtained it.
Winters was arrested on suspicion of burglary and theft, both felonies. She was later released on bail from the Sonoma County Jail.
You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.