Detroit police hunt gang of "Mad Hatter" thieves

DETROIT Fri May 6, 2011 10:45pm EDT

1 of 9. A female suspect responsible for a series of larcenies and frauds that have occurred throughout the metro Detroit area is seen in this Sterling Heights Police Department, Michigan, handout image released to Reuters on May 6, 2011. Police in Detroit are looking for a gang of middle-aged to elderly women, dubbed the 'Mad Hatters', who are believed to be responsible for a string of robberies, purse snatching and fraud.

Credit: Reuters/Sterling Heights Police Department/Handout

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DETROIT (Reuters) - Police in Detroit are looking for a gang of middle-aged to elderly women, dubbed the "Mad Hatters," who are believed to be responsible for a string of robberies, purse snatching and fraud.

The suspects typically steal a woman's wallet or purse, police said in a statement. Shortly afterward, the credit cards and checks are used at stores to buy merchandise or at banks to get cash.

Surveillance photographs supplied by police show the middle-aged to elderly women wear hats, usually of the floppy, fisherman variety, at the time of the incidents.

Purse-snatching crimes are not uncommon, but what is unusual is the organized nature of the crimes.

"Seldom are there these organized rings doing it, such as this one," Sterling Heights police Lt. Luke Riley said.

The incidents began about a year ago and the most recent incident occurred last week, according to a press release from the Sterling Heights Police Department.

The total value of merchandise and cash stolen could be as high as $500,000, police said. The women stole almost $200,000 from one bank.

Riley said authorities are looking for "at least" five or six women in this group.

Photographs show the person responsible for the theft is not always the one who uses the stolen items to commit the fraud, police said in a release.

(Reporting by Deepa Seetharaman; Editing by Greg McCune)

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