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Police say robber targeted distracted female shoppers

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com
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Police say they’ve arrested a man who targeted older women in the parking lots of stores and robbed them as they fumbled at their cars with packages, keys and pocketbooks.

Nicolaus Anthony Gibbs, 22, is charged with six robberies in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. But police say he has been implicated in five other cases, including two in the parking lot of Concord Mills Mall.

Police said he was in the Mecklenburg jail late Thursday, although his bail information for all the charges wasn’t immediately available. The first crime happened Sept. 26, the most recent was Dec. 2.

All of the robbery victims were women. Their average age is 78.

At a news conference Thursday announcing Gibbs’ arrest, police warned the community that thieves frequently target holiday shoppers in parking lots, at gas stations and at other public places where distracted people make easy targets.

“We’ve seen other similar cases like this,” said Capt. Todd Garrett, who’s the head of the University City Division, where most of the robberies occurred. “We felt it was very important to get this out. Secure your purse. Lock the door, then go to the rear of the vehicle to deal with packages.”

Police believe Gibbs, a former member of the N.C. National Guard, started robbing people in September and began to target older female shoppers after snatching a few purses. The oldest was 82, Garrett said.

Gibbs would watch the doors of supermarkets and department stores for victims, then follow them to their cars, police say. Investigators say he looked for a certain type of victim – older women likely to carry cash in their purses.

The robber often wore a dark hoodie, which made it difficult for victims or security cameras to get a good description, police said. He’d grab unattended property as they were busy putting other items away.

Gibbs was apprehended Dec. 2, after a crime in the parking lot of the Harris Teeter at West W.T. Harris Boulevard and Mallard Creek Road.

A woman told police that she was walking back to her car after shopping and placed her purse on the front passenger seat. A man opened the door and grabbed her purse. But the woman fought back, and in the struggle, the purse fell to the ground, spilling the contents. The suspect picked up the wallet, got into his car and drove away.

But officers had a vehicle description, which they broadcast to other police in the area. Officers spotted the suspect’s vehicle and detained him during a traffic stop. Police say Gibbs still had the Harris Teeter victim’s property in his possession when they arrested him.

Garrett said the Dec. 2 victim was the youngest. He said Gibbs may have mistaken her for an older woman because her face was obscured by her clothing.

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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