Forest Fresh owner wonders whether flower bandit is linked to thefts across city

by: COURTESY PHOTO: JOYCE HIATT - A security tape shows a woman bending down and reaching into a flower pot outside Forest Fresh Cleaners, where the owner found four Lobelia plants missing the Monday after Mothers Day -- two from each pot. Anyone with information on this woman or on other flower thefts should call police at 503-992-3260 or (after hours) 503-629-0111.Joyce Hiatt called the News-Times as soon as she read the front-page story about a mysterious flower thief who’d uprooted and taken 30 plants — about $250 worth — from Forest Grove’s Mountain View Memorial Gardens on Mother’s Day weekend.

Somebody had stolen flowers that same weekend from Hiatt’s Forest Fresh Cleaners on Pacific Avenue, Hiatt said: “And we’ve got the girl on camera. She pulled them right up out of our pots at the front door.”

Hiatt’s security tape may help solve a mysterious string of thefts that have deflowered four sites across Forest Grove — and possibly more.

The tape comes from Saturday, May 11, the evening before Mother’s Day. At 9:06 p.m., a young woman wearing white pedal pushers and white shoes appears outside the door of Hiatt’s store. The girl’s blond hair falls over her face as she bends and reaches toward the flower pot.

After she pulls something from one of the two pots framing the door — right in front of the “24-hour electronic security” sign — the woman walks off toward the bowling alley, but returns three minutes later. She steps inside the laundromat briefly and looks around, then walks back out to the other pot, pulls out something else, drops it in a bag and walks away.

“She did it very gingerly. She didn’t just jerk ‘em out,” said Hiatt, who found two Lobelia plants missing from each pot Monday morning.

Hiatt suspects the same woman stole flowers from Forest Fresh last year, right around Mother’s Day, when her security camera footage seemed to show the thin blonde woman taking flowers from the pot.

Mother’s Day last year also marked the first flower theft from Mountain View Memorial Gardens.

1910 Main - An American Bistro lost flowers around Mother’s Day last year as well, according to one of Hiatt’s customers, who works at the restaurant. This year there was nothing to take from 1910, Patty Laskey told Hiatt last week, because “we never replanted anything.”

This year, new Forest Grove residents Aubrey Sidwell and his wife were taken by surprise when they noticed their white- and red-striped flowering phlox missing right around Mother’s Day. They’d planted it among boulders in their front yard on Forge Drive, off Goff Road.

“I thought it was strange that someone would take a whole plant out of our yard,” Sidwell wrote to the News-Times.

He mentioned the theft to a neighbor, who told Sidwell about a skinny blond woman who walks around the neighborhood, picking flowers out of people’s yards.

“Haven’t you seen her?” asked the neighbor, who also told Sidwell the woman walked and acted strangely.

Forest Grove Police Captain Mike Herb said there is an officer assigned to the Mountain View case. After learning of the other incidents, Herb said there may be a more organized investigation if it looks like the thefts are widespread.

Herb doesn’t minimize the cost of the theft.

“When you consider the price of flowers today, it’s a significant amount of money to invest in landscaping a yard,” he said.

Hiatt has put money, time and effort into the flower pots outside her business. She brings dirt from Portland, then kneels down to plant and arrange the flowers, which she changes constantly to match the season. “Plus we’ve got a frog in there,” she said.

To prevent theft, her pots are bolted into the cement. And Hiatt began hiding dried, thorny briars among her plant arrangements years ago, after she caught a transient stealing flowers and then giving them to female customers in the adjacent laundromat.

Hiatt, whose customers include Forest Grove Police Chief Janie Schutz, reported the theft to the police department, which also has a copy of her security tape.

Anyone with information about the thefts or the blond woman can call police during business hours at 503-992-3260 or after hours at 503-629-0111.

Hiatt said she probably wouldn’t have reported the theft if she hadn’t learned about the cemetery incident.

Until then, she said, a few missing flowers didn’t seem that important. She also felt sorry for the thief, wondering if the girl didn’t have enough money to buy a nice present for her mom.

“We thought that maybe because it was Mother’s Day the next day, maybe she was going to fix up a pot for her mother,” Hiatt said.

After last week’s theft, one acquaintance told her, “You should put a sign up there: ‘Keep your hands off!’

“I didn’t feel that way,” Hiatt said. “I felt I should do a little pot for her and set it aside and say, ‘Here you go.’”

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