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'I WANT my purse'

July 31, 2012 12:10 am


Deborah Lamb and her sister-in-law tracked down her purse after it was stolen from a Fairfax theater. lo073112Lamb2.jpg

Deborah Lamb said police in Fairfax City said they couldn't help her retrieve her purse. lo073112Lamb1.jpg

Lamb's sister-in-law recorded the retrieval.


When police said they couldn't help her retrieve her stolen purse, Deborah Lamb took matters--and technology--into her own hands.

The Westmoreland County grandmother used an iPhone application to track down her phone, which was in the front pocket of her Fossil handbag.

Then she knocked on a stranger's door at 2 in the morning as her sister-in-law, Diane Moore, videotaped the whole incident.

"I didn't ask if he had my purse," recalled Lamb, who's 57. "I said, 'I WANT my purse.'"

In the background, Moore shouted: "Give us the purse, the police are on the way"--even though they weren't.

The man who answered the door, to a nice townhouse in a Fairfax County subdivision, wore nothing but his boxers.

To Lamb, he said, "Yeah, yeah, I got it," and went upstairs to retrieve the purse. He mumbled something about how she'd left it at the theater, in the City of Fairfax, and that he planned to mail it to her.

Lamb and Moore got out of there.

Then they checked the purse, which Lamb said contained items valued at approximately $20,000, including about $300 in cash, credit cards and the title to her 2000 Cobra Mustang, which she had with her in case she needed to get a loan.

"I got everything back," Lamb said. "I think it's incredible."


In the days since then, people have told Lamb she was crazy, that she might have been shot by the man on the other side of the door.

She's stuck by her response: "If you knew everything in your life was in that purse, you would have done the same thing."

Plus, she said she and Moore aren't your average middle-aged women. Lamb was a police officer and jail guard for 5 years, though she suffers a lot of pain from a disabling back injury and has several screws in her spine.

Moore recently was diagnosed with breast cancer. She also had an unrelated operation recently on her esophagus. Things went awry, and she had to be cut open from her throat to her pubic bone.

Lamb said they've earned the right to be called scrappers and fighters.

"A lot of people were saying we were being reckless with our lives," Lamb said. "We've already been through hell. We had nothing to lose."


Lamb called to report the stolen purse after watching "Your Sister's Sister" at the Cinema Arts Theatre on Main Street in Fairfax.

She and Moore told theater workers that a white man in his 40s, who had graying hair on his temples and was wearing a pink shirt, sat by them that night.

Lamb thought it was odd when he came to her row. There were only five or six people in the whole place. And, she said, "The movie was a total chick flick."

She usually wraps the straps of her purse around her leg, but she didn't have room to do that because she had a jumbo container of popcorn and a large drink.

"I was living reckless here," she joked.

She didn't want her purse on the sticky floor so she set it on the seat beside her.

There were two empty seats between her purse and the man in pink.

When Lamb visited the bathroom after the movie and realized she didn't have her purse, she searched the seat and row where she sat, then alerted theater workers.

A young man told her he'd seen a man, wearing pink, running out of the theater.


Lamb called the Fairfax City Police. Then she followed her training as a police officer and started searching trash cans in case the thief grabbed the cash and cards and dumped the rest.

In the meantime, Moore retrieved her iPad because she knew Lamb had installed the "Find My iPhone" app on her device.

The women plugged in Lamb's data, and a map showed up, with a blue circle hovering over where her phone was.

Both showed that to the police officers and asked if they'd go with the women to retrieve it. Lamb said they told her they couldn't enter a building without a search warrant. And because the area contained apartment buildings, the police said it would be too many doors to knock on, Lamb said.

When the blue circle crossed into Fairfax County, the officer said that wasn't his jurisdiction.

Lamb explained she'd worked for Fairfax County Police decades earlier, in administration and occasionally on undercover assignments. She asked if the officers could call dispatchers in the next jurisdiction and get help, and she said they said no.

Fairfax City Lt. Rory Castillo said otherwise. He said police offered to call Fairfax County for her, and she declined, saying, "No, don't bother, I'll take care of it myself," Castillo said.

Lamb said she was so desperate for her purse, she would have taken any help she could get.

"If they had offered that, don't you think I would have gone for it?" she asked.


The Internet is filled with stories about people and police who used the phone app to track down stolen goods. Officials located a stolen car in Australia, helped tourists in New Orleans get back their smartphone and solved a crime spree in Kensington, Md., where men who had stolen an iPhone were apprehended with several backpacks of stolen GPS units.

In Manchester, Tenn., an 8-year-old boy used the tracking device to find his stolen iPad. He told his parents the application showed his device at a nearby hotel, and his father called the police.

"From there, investigators just followed the bouncing--or, in this case, hovering--ball," the story read.

They recovered the boy's iPad, as well as about $350,000 in stolen goods from at least 100 incidents, stretching from Pennsylvania to Florida.

The story of the two middle-aged women who Lamb said "took on this guy because the cops wouldn't" might be added to the "Find My iPhone" successes.

"It doesn't matter how old you are," she said, "if you have the gumption."

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.