Local police worked Monday to see if two weekend purse thefts in churches were related, warning residents they need to watch their belongings, apparently even in a house of worship.
The thefts happened Friday and Sunday — Good Friday and Easter Sunday — and each involved someone taking a purse while parishioners had left their pews.
The first purse theft happened in Schenectady Friday evening at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Pleasant Street. The second happened Sunday morning at Our Lady Queen of Peace Roman Catholic Church on Princetown Road in Rotterdam.
Police in both jurisdictions were in contact to determine if the incidents were related. The descriptions of the suspects had similarities, officials said, though they weren’t perfect matches.
Friday’s theft happened during the Good Friday Veneration of the Cross, Sunday’s during Communion.
Rev. Robert J. Hohenstein of Mount Carmel was celebrating Mass on Friday but said he didn’t realize exactly what happened until the service was over.
“It’s just pathetic that during the most holy week of the year that somebody has other thoughts and takes advantage of people here to worship the Lord,” Hohenstein said. “It’s very sad that that would happen at any time, especially on Good Friday.”
In each case, the suspect was described as wearing some kind of hat.
In the Friday night theft, the man’s hat drew attention from some even before the purse went missing, Hohenstein said.
His church also has a surveillance camera that is believed to have caught the suspect on video, though not the theft itself, Hohenstein said. Church officials have turned over the video to police.
City police gave a vague description of their suspect as a heavy-set male with a white shirt. Rotterdam police described their suspect as a thin, gray-haired man about 65 years old and about 5 feet 10 inches tall.
City police spokesman Lt. Mark McCracken said the different build descriptions — heavy-set and thin — would suggest different suspects.
Rotterdam Police Lt. Michael Brown, though, said their description includes a puffy-type coat, making the actual build hard to determine.
The Rotterdam suspect also wore a knit hat during the service. It could be similar to the one reported in Schenectady, Brown said.
Brown and McCracken had similar advice for individuals: keep an eye on your belongings, even during church.
“Unfortunately, that would be the only advice I could give,” Brown said.
Hohenstein said he gave similar advice, telling parishioners during Holy Saturday Mass what happened. He suggested they take their pocketbooks with them when they went to Communion. “That’s when these characters take advantage of good people who aren’t thinking that this could happen in church,” Hohenstein said.