'Hoodie' used to conceal snakes in Bradenton shoplifting

rdymond@bradenton.comOctober 16, 2013 

MANATEE -- In a display of shoplifting called "brazen" by the pet store owner, three suspects took six snakes, including a 4-foot, red-tailed boa constrictor as thick as a man's arm, by hiding them in their hoodies.

The thefts occurred at 4:57 p.m. Monday at Petland Bradenton, 3530 53rd Ave. W., according to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.

At one point, one suspect had the hoodie wrapped around his neck with the 4-foot snake inside it, said Stephen Benecke, one of the store's owners.

Benecke described the crime after he retrieved surveillance video from store cameras.

He and his staff didn't report it as a crime right away because they thought the snakes had somehow escaped. There was no lock on the big snake's habitat.

"You would think no one would try and get him," Benecke said when asked why the boa wasn't locked up. "It was so brazen of this man to stick his hand in to get a snake he didn't know. I deal with snakes every day and I would never do something like that."

The thieves got $8,000 worth of snakes, Benecke added,

The other five stolen snakes were ball python hatchlings about 14-inches-long.

The store manager was at the cash register and a store counselor was showing a puppy when two adult males and an adult woman walked into the store, Benecke said. In the surveillance video, the two men can be seen walking to the reptile area, bending over and removing latches from the snake habitats while the woman was elsewhere in the store, possibly serving as a lookout, Benecke added.

The video shows one man reach into the large snake's habitat, then quickly wrap the snake in a hoodie.

The other man is seen going back several times to get the ball pythons, which he put in a hoodie.

"The hoodies were draped over their shoulders when they walked in and then they casually walked out with the snakes in the hoodies," Benecke said. "This will be a tough case to solve because one boa looks the same as another."

Deputy Brent Smith dusted for fingerprints Tuesday.

Benecke and his staff noticed three ball pythons missing from their habitats two weeks ago. Again, they thought they somehow escaped.

"Now we are wondering if it was these people," Benecke said.

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