NEWBURYPORT — A local candy store owner is praising the power of social media after a series of Facebook posts helped police find a suspected mother-daughter shoplifting duo earlier this week.
Wendy Wilmot of Simply Sweet said two women entered her Inn Street store Monday and smuggled close to $60 in candy in their pocketbooks.
Wilmot was not in the store at the time but said she noticed items were missing after she returned Tuesday.
"I have these little votive bowls with little cashew turtles in them but the little cashew turtles had been taken out," Wilmot said. "I thought, 'Shoot, somebody took them.'"
Wilmot went on Facebook and checked a closed group page for local retailers and managers administered by the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce & Industry. She found the owner of Harbor Creamery, Merri-Lee Steeves, had also experienced a theft Monday.
"One of my customers came up to me on Monday and told me two women just took some candy and then left the store quickly," Steeves said. "By the time I looked out my window, I couldn't see them."
Steeves checked her security camera video and saw two women stuff about $5 worth of candy in their pocketbooks and then leave her store without paying.
Steeves then put the word out on Facebook for local retailers to check their security cameras for the women.
Wilmot checked her security video and, sure enough, two women — one of whom appears to be in her 60s while the other looks to be in her mid-30s, can be seen putting candy into their pocketbooks before leaving without paying Monday.
“They were having a field day,” Wilmot said.
She said the older woman does most of the grabbing while the younger woman appears to be a lookout.
"(The older woman) worked my store like she owned it and was able to take whatever she wanted," Wilmot said. "She opens up her pocketbook and throws in anything she wants. There were quite a lot of people in the store at the time, even kids. She nearly bumped into one gentleman, trying to stuff a plate into her pocketbook."
Steeves said the pair are the same women who allegedly hit her store Monday.
"Wendy's video is a lot more accurate but it's very clear they are the same women," Steeves said. "They have the same purses and are dressed the same and they had a purpose. They weren't in looking for ice cream, they decided they would take this candy and head out."
Wilmot posted her video on her Facebook page and it quickly went viral. Soon, she got a tip on who the two women might be, including a photo and their names.
Wilmot took the photos and names of the women to the Newburyport Police Department.
Officer Derek Paru said he was able to positively identify the two women, a mother and daughter from Chelmsford, by cross-referencing Wilmot's security camera video and photos the women had on their personal Facebook pages.
When Paru called the Chelmsford Police Department and told them of his suspicions, he was given an address and a phone number for the women and made a call.
"I spoke to (the mother's) husband," Paru said. "He told me that she admitted it to him. I have yet to speak (to either woman) but I would like them to come down to the police station."
The mother and daughter have the same Chelmsford address and a pair of summonses for shoplifting by asportation (carrying away property) were mailed to them Wednesday morning, police said.
"The power of social media is amazing," Wilmot said. "I also guarantee that they didn't just steal from Merri-Lee and myself. They were here for a good period of time and they had a field day in Newburyport. I am asking all retailers who have their cameras, please play them back and look at them."
Wilmot said the most expensive item the two women allegedly stole cost roughly $16.,
"You know what, I give a lot to local charities and if you don't have the money to pay for it and you want to just try it, I'd probably just give it to you," Wilmot said. "But don't steal it from me. I work hard."
Staff writer Jim Sullivan can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.