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Cops: Hempstead Village robber suspected in other muggings

John Cole, 52, of Hempstead, was arrested early

John Cole, 52, of Hempstead, was arrested early Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017, and charged with robbery, accused of knocking down a woman Wednesday night, Nassau County police said. Credit: NCPD

A purse snatcher chased down by three teenagers is suspected in nine muggings and could be connected to 11 more since October, Hempstead Village police said Thursday.

John Cole, 52, knocked a woman to the ground on Main Street Wednesday night, wresting away her purse in a struggle, but the victim and three teenage eyewitnesses chased after him, authorities said.

“We heard her crying for help,” said Kevin Saenz, 18, a Hempstead High School senior who was with friends Mozarp Lopez, 18, and Johnny Matute, 16, when they saw a man hitting the woman and running off with her purse.

Cole swung a crowbar at them, injuring one teenager’s hand, but they held him until officers arrived, Nassau police said.

He was arraigned Thursday on two counts of second-degree robbery and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon. He was held on bail of $30,000 bond or $20,000 cash and was represented by Legal Aid, which has a policy of not commenting early in cases.

So far, 20 muggings from Oct. 3 to Jan. 9 have been reported in the village, a number that’s likely on the low side, said Assistant Chief Joseph Sortino of the Hempstead police. The mugger targets Latino women, Sortino said, because they may not speak English and are often hesitant to call police for help.

Two weeks ago, Nassau robbery detectives and village police began seeing patterns in the muggings, Sortino said.

The mugger, and in some cases up to four others, pounced on pedestrians and people waiting for public transportation or outside stores, police said. The victims were usually punched and shoved to the ground, and in one case, beaten with a bat, authorities said. Cellphones, money, wallets or purses were stolen, police said.

Sortino said investigators believe nine robberies were committed by the same man and that Cole’s actions fit the pattern and his looks “definitely” match the suspect description — a middle-aged man with a goatee.

Cole is also being eyed as the suspect in the 11 other cases that don’t fully fit the pattern due to variations, such as the color of the getaway vehicle or more than one attacker involved, Sortino said. Cole may have been working with accomplices because victims also described a man with a goatee, he said.

In one of the more violent cases, a victim was walking to a bus stop at 6 p.m. Jan. 2 when she was attacked. As she tried to hold on to her purse, the robber kicked her in the stomach and pulled out a knife, according to a police document obtained by Newsday.

In another listed case with several attackers, the victim fell and passed out after being punched in the back of his head Dec. 28.

Wednesday’s victim, 45, complained of knee pain and was treated and released from a hospital, Nassau police said.

With Veronica Garcia

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