Andrew Dys

Purse snatching prompts generosity toward victim, leads to felony charges for suspects

Imagine the surprise Pauline Burris - 79 and disabled, the victim of a purse snatching at a grocery store in Rock Hill two days before Christmas - felt when she opened her mail a few days ago to find a check for $100.

"I was just stunned," said Burris. "I didn't know what to do. I didn't know this person."

So Burris called the phone number on the check and learned that the couple who had sent it was older and retired, just like Burris and her husband of almost 60 years, John. John Burris is 89 and retired after a back-breaking lifetime of work as a farmer.

"The lady told me she would have sent more if she could, and I cried," said Pauline Burris. "I found out that another man, anonymous, brought 50 dollars to the store and told them to use it for my groceries. People are just so nice. These strangers didn't have to help me."

Strangers did help Burris - after other strangers stole her purse on Dec. 23.

The purse was apparently not just tossed away.

A pair of checks stolen in the purse snatching were illegally used, said Lt. Brad Redfearn, police spokesperson.

On Wednesday afternoon, police arrested Timothy Dwayne Varnadore Jr., 24, of Rock Hill, on two counts of forgery and uttering, said Detective Keith Dugan, the investigator in the case.

Varnadore's bond was set this morning at $10,000, according to the Rock Hill Clerk of Court office. He remains in the Rock Hill jail, pending transfer to the Moss Justice Center if he does not post bond by this afternoon.

Police also charged Lindsey Whitman, 23, of Fort Mill, with warrants alleging two counts of forgery and uttering, Dugan said, yet Whitman has not yet been arrested.

Pauline Burris was riding a motorized grocery cart at the Heckle Boulevard Food Lion when her purse was taken from the basket on the front of the cart.

Burris, who was a certified nursing assistant all her life and the sister of slain lawyer and former York mayor Melvin Roberts, had to tell a cashier that she did not have her checkbook or any money.

Store managers let Burris, a regular customer, take the $122 in groceries home, saying she could come back another day and pay. Two employees took Burris to her bank so the stolen checks could be tracked, and one employee even gave Burris a $10 gift card.

Ladies working at the Jack-in-The-Box next door bought Burris lunch.

After the theft, Burris had to do the running around and make the uncountable calls required to replace Social Security cards, Medicare cards - all those things that can be replaced.

The photos in her purse and other items of a 79-year lifetime can never be replaced.

Trying to get a new picture identification for John Burris, 89 and homebound, might be impossible. The only way for someone to get a photo ID is to physically go to a state Department of Motor Vehicles office and get one.

Many in the state want to require a picture ID to vote and to obtain other services. But the bureaucrats and politicians who demand that even 89-year-old people have photo IDs do not make house calls.

The crime stunned Laura Borland, the Burrises' daughter, who has talked to her mother about how to be safer while grocery shopping. The fact that someone would steal a purse from an older woman's shopping cart while she reached for her groceries distresses Borland even more.

"How can someone do such a thing?" Borland asked. "How bad off can someone be to steal from the disabled?"

Apparently pretty bad off. And now, after the police investigation, worse off, because stealing a purse is classified as petty larceny. The crime before the checks were used was a misdemeanor. Use of stolen checks is a felony.

Pauline Burris is left with the good deeds of strangers and the alleged bad deeds of strangers. Friday is her shopping day.

Pauline Burris said she plans to go to the Food Lion that she has been going to for years - and nobody is getting anywhere near her pocketbook.