Nursery owner catches suspect on video as string of overnight thefts hit garden stores

The owner of Sandy’s Back Porch says she prefers that her customers shop during the day — and pay for the plants and soil they take.

Sandy Richter, owner of the plant nursery in Belleville on West Boulevard, posted a series of videos on Tuesday night. The videos appear to show a woman, wearing a ball cap with a headlamp over the brim, taking plants and bags of soil.

“The thing that tipped us off, we were growing a container for a woman who works here for her daughter’s wedding,” Richter said. That container — a 24-inch-tall burgundy square with white euphorbia and purple fountain grass — was missing. Other containers for the wedding were found around the property, damaged beyond salvage in time for the September wedding.

“They just weren’t going to be looking gorgeous like they were (before),” Richter said, adding that employees have found alternatives for the wedding.

At least one other family owned nursery in the area has suffered similar thefts recently. Andy Klos, general manager of Market Basket in O’Fallon, said an overnight thief took garden decor, accessories, plants and more from his store on July 22.

“I would say they came here to scope it out first and came back later,” Klos said, adding that the items were heavy and retailed at more than $1,500.

Klos has given “a lot of thought” to those responsible for the thefts, saying landscapers typically don’t install benches or bird baths. He thinks the thief is “a residential delinquent.”

O’Fallon police also said someone stole landscaping products from Gerardi’s Landscaping Services during an overnight theft on July 27.

St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department confirmed that Sandy’s Back Porch had reported a robbery between 9 and 11:30 p.m. Aug. 22. Deputies are reviewing the supplied video as part of the investigation.

Richter’s Facebook post says the woman drives a black SUV, possibly a Chevrolet Traverse or an Equinox and has a very large tattoo on her left calf. Richter asks that anyone with knowledge of the thefts call Sandy’s Back Porch at 235-2004.

Richter said the posted videos are “the highlight reel,” and that the woman used garden carts and wagons to load all the unpaid merchandise. There were at least four nights of thefts, she said, and at one point the woman passed a line of signs that warned of surveillance cameras and prosecution.

“I was hoping to catch her without putting it on Facebook, but I’m glad we did,” Richter said. “It makes you feel really good when you make a post like this and people want to help you.”

Klos said his nursery will not be submitting an insurance claim for the thefts.

Mary Cooley: 618-239-2535, @MaryCooleyBND