The night of St. Patrick’s Day, bar lines stretched out into the streets as students masquerading in shades of green prepared for a night of carefree fun and celebration.
Senior Amy Littlefield was one face in a sea of many seeking entertainment at The Grotto at Capone’s, a pub located off West Michigan Avenue. After enjoying a few dances with friends, Littlefield retired from the establishment, noting with irritation that her phone was missing.
“I noticed it was gone probably around 1:30 a.m. I had all the rest of my stuff on me like my debit card so I really wasn’t concerned,” Littlefield said.
The night was still young and one missing phone in a crowd of people was no big deal to Littlefield. Ultimately, she dismissed her worries, unaware that this seemingly minor incident was part of a crime chain impacting women hundreds of miles away.
Rachel Sherman, a current resident of Brooklyn, New York, received quite the shock when she realized that 2,000 dollars from her Venmo account had been transferred to a Venmo account in the name of Amy Littlefield. Sherman promptly contacted Littlefield on Facebook where the two exchanged identical stories - a crowded night spent at the bar and a missing phone with no explanation.
“I am sketched out by the whole situation,” Sherman said. “This is crazy, sophisticated theft.”
A day after Littlefield lost her phone, notifications from her bank informed her that money had been withdrawn to pay for transportation all across the state of New York, the same area where Sherman resides.
“It really scared me,” Littlefield said. “The first thing I noticed was a $50 Uber charge. How would that happen?”
Below the $50 charge was a $30 Uber charge, a $28 charge and then a $60 charge. Littlefield’s Uber receipt showed an individual traveling from Manhattan, New York to Brooklyn, New York and then another trip from Brooklyn, New York to New Jersey.
Sherman urged Littlefield to contact Detective Michael Lampman, a member of the New York City Police Department who has been exploring Sherman’s case along with those of six other women who reside in New York and have experienced identical circumstances.
“The victims in these cases are mostly young women who are going to bars and nightclubs on the weekends and are having their phones removed from their purses while the bars are crowded. Someone calls either them or their friends and tells them that they are a manager from the bar and found their phone,” Lampman said. “This person also uses other girls' phones that were recently stolen to contact them as well. Oftentimes, these girls give these ‘managers’ their passcodes for their phones so they can verify that the phones are theirs. This ‘manager’ then states that it was someone else's phone and hangs up.”
Littlefield makes the eighth link in this crime chain and is the only victim to reside outside of New York, a detail that throws a wrench in Lampman’s investigation.
“[Lampman] thought that was so bizarre,” Littlefield said. “He thought he was pretty close to getting the local perpetrator and cracking the case, but next thing he knew some girl from West Michigan was thrown in this pot with New York girls.”
Both Sherman and Littlefield suspect the perpetrator is acting out these crimes with someone else, a conclusion they think best explains the distance between the thefts.
“I don’t think he went from Michigan to New York in one night. I think he might be working with an accomplice,” Sherman said.
Lampman, however, remains uncertain and unwilling to prematurely confirm Sherman’s and Littlefield’s idea before further investigation.
“I don't really know what the link is from here to Kalamazoo, but I found it strange that my victims here have Amy's name and Venmo information and that there were transfers made from her account to people here. That’s what I am trying to get to the bottom of,” Lampman said.
Lost phones are a very common occurrence at bars, especially on weekends, The Grotto at Capone’s employee Shelby Gibbons said. Though it’s easy to become negligent when celebrating with friends, in light of these recent unsolved crimes, it is more important than ever to remain observant of personal belongings and diligent in ensuring their safety.
“Every girl puts her phone in their back pocket. Think about how big the new smart phones are. Those phones stick out of the back. Boys at least have big pockets,” Littlefield said.
To solve that problem, Littlefield suggests holding your belongings in a reliable purse that zips closed. Or, if all else fails, glue your phone to your body, Littlefield joked.
Though that is perhaps not the most practical solution, Littlefield stressed an important point. No matter how much enjoyment is being had, always remember to keep track of belongings and never dismiss when something has gone missing.