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Nassau police search for suspects in purse snatchings

Kathleen Samperi said she had her purse snatched

Kathleen Samperi said she had her purse snatched in one of a recent string of incidents police believe are linked. At right is her sister. Photo Credit: Jim Staubitser

One or more purse snatchers are targeting women in what Nassau police believe is a pattern of as many as nine attacks, many as their victims climbed out of cars.

Two attempted robberies of women in their driveways in Merrick and North Bellmore Thursday night are likely related to seven robberies since Oct. 23 across several South Shore communities, according to Nassau police.

While no one has been seriously hurt, "the potential is certainly there," said Nassau police spokesman Det. Lt. Kevin Smith.

Among the victims is Joan Behrens, 59, of Merrick, who police say was attacked in her driveway Nov. 10. The pharmacist technician said she was just home from work around 9 p.m. and getting packages from her car when she heard footsteps and felt a yank on her purse.

Behrens said she held on as the man, his face covered by a dark-colored sweatshirt hood, yanked her purse, pulling her to the pavement and ripping her pants.

Once he ran with her purse to a waiting car, Behrens said she jumped into her car to follow, only stopping when she realized she'd lost her glasses in the attack.

"I gave him a good tug for it. I didn't even think if he had a weapon," she said, adding that she believed the wiser decision would have been to let go of the purse. Behrens lost $550 in cash - holiday shopping money - as well as a ring, three camera memory cards, credit cards, her driver's license and other items.

This robbery, police said, was typical of the pattern: a man comes up from behind the target and grabs a purse. Few or no words are said.

The robber is likely working with another man. The two follow women who are alone, police said, then rob them once they reach their driveways. Police say one man waits in a getaway car, a dark gray, four-door sedan resembling a Toyota Camry, while the other attacks the woman.

In the first attack Thursday, a 37-year-old woman bicycled home from the Long Island Rail Road station in Merrick and put her pocketbook in her house, police said. When she came out to put her bicycle in the garage around 6:45 p.m., a man pushed her to the ground. Nothing was stolen, police said.

About 2 1/2 hours later, a 29-year-old woman was walking on Bellmore Avenue when a man tried to snatch her bag. The woman screamed and the man fled without the purse.

Prior incidents have occurred in Levittown, Merrick, North Merrick, East Meadow and Wantagh between 8 and 11 p.m.

In one of those attacks, Kathleen Samperi, 81, said she was getting to her home Nov. 11 on Wheelbarrow Lane in Wantagh from visiting her sick sister when a man ran up as she opened her car door.

"He pulled so hard I fell out of the car," she said. Samperi said her purse contained about $300. "I'm still shaking."

The men may be looking for targets around Grand Avenue in Baldwin, Hempstead Turnpike and Sunrise Highway near the train station, police said.

The robberies appear unrelated to a recent string near St. John's University or at Hofstra University a few months ago, police said.

"Come home to a bright driveway," Smith said. "If they suspect something, they should stay in their car and call 911."

With John Valenti

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