‘I just had to go home and crawl into bed:’ Help ID crime ring suspects who targeted restaurant, stole safe from upstairs office

WANTED IN CHEHALIS —
A Chehalis restaurant has taken steps to protect themselves from thieves, after police say they were targeted by a group wanted for stealing from a store in Covington and along I5, from Castle Rock to Longview.

Take a look at the four women and the man who was driving them who Chehalis Police are asking for your help to identify. In all, detectives say there could be as many as 12 to 18 suspects involved in the ring. All are described as possibly Romanian.

While the theft in Chehalis may have been a crime of opportunity — the impact on the victim’s sense of security is huge. “Just, ‘Boom! Boom! Boom!’” Pam Wildhaber described how a thief ransacked their office at Jeremy’s Farm to Table restaurant in Chehalis before stealing a safe with $2,000 cash inside on July 3rd.

It’s a big blow to this small-town business that prides itself on being family friendly and welcoming to travelers driving between Portland and Seattle. “I felt really, really awful that this happened and that people have the nerve to do that kind of thing,” said Pam.

"Four females had entered the restaurant. Several of the females stayed around a lower staircase, being lookouts is what it appeared. One of the females went upstairs to an employee-only office, while up in the office, the female ransacked the office. It appears she tucked a small safe underneath her clothing, as she was exiting the store with the other three females. She had a bulge, so we believe that was the safe,” said Chehalis Police Det. Sgt. Gwen Carrell

They got into a Ford Explorer, possibly with the Eddie Bauer package, driven by a man.

During the investigation, police located the same suspects stealing from the gas station across the street from the restaurant. "It appears they were stuffing unknown items into their purses while they were inside the store and then they left,” said Det. Sgt. Carrell.

Police quickly matched the MO and photos to similar cases of theft in Castle Rock and Longview in Cowlitz County, as well as to one at a Costco store in Covington -- and there could be more than a dozen suspects involved. “I am asking the community, if they can help identify who these people are, to please let us know,” said Det. Sgt. Carrell.

Police are also warning businesses not to have  a false sense of security. Pam says since the theft, they've installed coded entries on their doors and their safe is now bolted to the top of the file cabinet, all because these thieves brought big-city crime to this restaurant that prides itself on connecting farm, food and community. "One of my employees said as they were leaving, ‘Thanks for coming. Have a nice day.’ And, they looked back and smirked and went out, so yeah, just that feeling, it`s a feeling of being violated and just how much you have to scrutinize and keep your eyes open all the time,” said Pam.

If you recognize any of these woman, their getaway driver, their vehicle, or know anything at all that can help take this theft ring down, use the P3 Tips App on your smart phone to submit the information to Crime Stoppers, or call the hot line at 1-800-222-TIPS(8477). It’s anonymous and you’ll get a cash reward of up to $1,000 if your tip helps lead to any arrests in the case.

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