Smash-and-grab handbag thieves suspected in other crimes

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Brazen thieves who stormed a suburban St. Louis Saks Fifth Avenue and smashed glass shelving to steal $60,000 worth of handbags are suspected of similar crimes in three other states, with thefts and damage totaling nearly $2 million, police said Thursday.

The crime Saturday at Plaza Frontenac near St. Louis led to a 60-mile chase that ended in Illinois with the capture of seven men and one woman, all in their 20s and all from the Chicago area. They are jailed on felony charges.

A second car with four suspects got away. Police continue to search for those suspects.

Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Mike Link said similar crimes have been reported at "high-end" stores in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. He did not have information about specific locations or when the crimes occurred, but said the thefts and property damage in all four states is estimated at $1.9 million.

St. Louis County prosecutors released court records Wednesday detailing the crime at Plaza Frontenac, a tony shopping center in Frontenac, one of Missouri's wealthiest cities.

Frontenac detective Michael Barron said a group of 10 to 12 people walked into Saks Fifth Avenue soon after it opened Saturday morning, all of them wearing hooded sweatshirts pulled over their faces.

The suspects went into the store's Chanel boutique and grabbed handbags that were connected by cables and glass shelving, Barron said. Even as a security guard came toward them they smashed the glass, grabbed 16 handbags and ran to two cars that sped off, Barron said.

The captured suspects were in a red Dodge sport utility vehicle that drove through a business district at more than 100 mph before entering Interstate 64, police said. The SUV was spotted in Illinois, prompting another chase that went north on Interstate 55.

Police used spike strips near the town of Mount Olive. With a flattened tire, the SUV eventually stopped in the center median. The suspects ran but were caught, Link said. All 16 stolen handbags were found in the vehicle.

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