Men wearing wigs and dressed as women are accused of stealing thousands of dollars of filmy fabrics, sequins, feather boas and other accessories from Central Florida stores.
"It's a whole gang of drag queens," said Amanda Marshall, manager of Jo-Ann Fabrics on East Colonial Drive in Orlando, where police arrested three suspects Sunday afternoon. "They were real upset when the police made them take their wigs off."
Such thefts became routine within the past year at fabric and hobby stores.
"We've never caught them red-handed but that sounds just like them," said Mark Sauer, the owner of the Sewing Studio Fabric Superstore on U.S. Highway 17-92 inMaitland. "In my memory, they had been coming in on Friday nights in a group. They wore makeup but I don't remember them wearing dresses."
At Jo-Ann Fabrics on Sunday, the staff recognized four transvestites, including one in a tight white knit skirt, enter the store at about 5 p.m. as some of the same men they had reported at least three previous times to Orlando police, according to interviews and police reports.
"They'd come in and order yards of fabric at up to $39.99 a yard, stuff it in their man purses and leave without paying," Marshall said. "Oh, gosh, they could wipe out a whole section of boas in seconds"
A man wearing a tank top and multi-color tights was spotted putting these items in a handbag: Five packs of black feathers, two packs of red feathers, two packs of red lace gloves, two packs of black red lace gloves, eyelashes, five bra pads, five butt pads, five gel inserts as well as three handbags, two boas, three pairs of costume glasses and 10 bandanas.
When confronted, some of the suspects handed over merchandise to the staff while others bolted through the front door.
One of them, Demitri Marsh, 19, swore at a clerk and threatened to cut her before fleeing, reports state.
Marsh, Renford Patterson, 18, and Antonio Webb, 22, were charged with retail theft of merchandise worth more than $300, a felony.