Note Book

“I wish I had a picture to show you how beautiful this woman was,” says the owner, actually co-owner, of a small town jewelry store in the Northeast. “She was perfect.”

Tall and blond, with skin “like glass.” She’d been a model. She carried herself with the authority of acknowledged beauty.

And dressed, well, exquisitely.

“If she was wearing a robin’s egg blue suit, the jacket, purse, and shoes all matched. Every outfit had a coat to go with it.”

She was considered a regular customer before she came to work at the store.

“She and her husband bought a lot of jewelry. She loved jewelry. Which is the best kind of salesperson.”

Looking back, it started maybe six months after she was hired.

“An older woman, Betty, worked here at the time. One night two guys came in. Betty opened the case to show them some wedding rings. The next day, two trays of rings were missing. I thought, ‘I guess Betty’s slipping.’”

The watchmaker episode happened a few years after that. The store employed an elderly man to clean and fix watches. One day the co-owner found him arguing with the saleslady. The watchmaker said he’d given her two expensive watches to send out for repair. She claimed never to have received them. Each was worth over $1,000. The watches never turned up. The co-owner told the customer they’d been lost in the mail.

A pattern emerged. Large items – a $6,500 pavé necklace – disappeared while the male partner in the business was out of town.

When he came back, “I would have to be the one to tell him. It was like I was being set up!”

Losses increased. So did the value of the purloined objects.

“At first, I thought we were being shoplifted a lot.”

But the evidence pointed to an inside job.

“If a necklace was missing, the bust we used to model it would also be gone. And everything in the case would be rearranged.”

After she’d worked there five years, the saleslady’s husband left her “and it really escalated.”

“I used to compliment her on her clothes. I’d say, ‘Where’d you get that dress?’ She’d mention a local department store. Or just laugh it off. Dismiss it.”

In the last two years, the co-owner noticed another thing.

“If a black couple rang the doorbell, she’d pretend she didn’t hear. When they came in the store, she’d find some reason not to wait on them. The next day, jewelry would be missing.”

One Friday night, an African-American man entered. His wife wanted a tennis bracelet. The store carried three: one for $2,500, one for $3,000 and one for $3,500.

“I’d known him since we were kids. We were in school plays together. He never, ever, ever, would’ve stolen anything.”

The next morning, the $3,500 bracelet was missing.

Without informing the staff, the co-owners placed a video camera above the store floor. A week later, while the male co-owner was out of town for a few days, a $13,500 ring disappeared.

The saleslady “spent half the night helping me search for it. We turned the store upside down.”

The next day, the saleslady overheard one of the owners on the phone, mentioning the video camera. She left the store and then returned. An hour later, with great fanfare, she produced a crumpled envelope from within the jewelry case; the missing ring was tucked inside. Unfortunately for her, the camera had recorded her removing the ring, as well as putting it back.

The owners were loathe to prosecute. They changed their minds after the saleslady’s son, an attorney, called full of blustery threats.

At first, she denied all wrongdoing. Finally she pleaded guilty to grand larceny. A first-offender program spared her jail time.

“I found out later almost everything she said about her life wasn’t true,” says the co-owner. Her age. Her private school childhood. The department store clothes actually came from the poshest shop in town.

A year later, recalls the co-owner, “I was on a buying trip and I decided, just out of curiosity, to go to her son’s office. It turns out he wasn’t a lawyer. He was a law clerk there. And on my way out the door I noticed the receptionist at the front desk was wearing one of our rings.”

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