Campus hit by wave of purse grabs

A rash of purse-snatchings in the last five days on the Yale campus might be the work of a single perpetrator.

Tuesday night, shortly before 11 p.m., Stephanie Wei ’05 was walking on York Street toward the medical school campus when a man on a BMX-style bicycle raced toward her, jostled her without braking, and stole her purse right in front of the Wolf’s Head secret society tomb. Wei said the man was black, between the ages of 25 and 30, had a small frame and short hair, and was wearing black clothing.

Two Berkeley College sophomores who witnessed the incident said the man continued towards the intersection of York and Elm streets and headed west either on Elm Street or Broadway. The sophomores and another witness, Florida resident Paul Martin, added that the man was wearing a short black coat.

“He was coming at me head-on and hit against me,” Wei said. “I felt like he had just knocked me down and then I realized my purse was gone.”

The assailant bruised Wei’s right arm, but she said New Haven Fire Department personnel who arrived on the scene determined she did not need immediate hospitalization.

Wei’s story is far from unique. Since last Friday, two other female Yalies have had their pocketbooks stolen. All three students’ descriptions of their assailants were practically identical: A slim, young black man on a BMX bicycle clad entirely in black.

And if it was the same perpetrator, he had already attempted a robbery that Tuesday night.

Around 10:45 p.m. Erin Beirnard ’03 was walking east on Chapel Street near Howe Street on the sidewalk closer to campus when a man on a BMX-style bicycle fitting the perpetrator’s description swerved toward her. She had her purse strap slung over her left shoulder and the purse itself over her right hip, and when the assailant tried to grab her valuables he held on for a short time but could not pry the purse free. Beirnard escaped with her money and identification, and the man on the bike rode away nonchalantly, she said.

Just five minutes later, Beirnard was completing her walk home on York Street when she heard a loud scream followed by the words, “My purse, my purse!” That scream came from Wei just moments after her pocketbook was lifted.

Yale Police Lt. Michael Patten confirmed that the descriptions police were given in each of these two cases were very similar. He said he thought New Haven police might have responded to the other incidents. New Haven police officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Patten added that Yale’s investigation is ongoing.

Martin said he was disturbed by such an occurrence near a college campus.

“It’s a sad state when the students have to worry about more than classes for back-to-school,” he said.

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