A shoplifting spree that targeted retailers like Burlington Coat Factory, Target and Walmart has been characterized by police as a shoplifting field trip of sorts.
Four children, ranging in age from nine to 13, were picked up Thursday night in Crestwood after security at the Burlington Coat Factory spotted suspicious activity and called 911.
But police said a mother, Oak Lawn's Maureen Crandall, 38, was the mastermind of the crimes. They say she recruited the kids to pull of the heists and even drove them around to the stores.
“She corralled some kids to commit some crimes, possibly for her benefit," said Crestwood Police Chief Theresa Neubauer.
When the young people were picked up Thursday, they were inside Crandall's SUV in a strip mall parking lot.
Inside her vehicle, police said they found a small trove of stolen merchandise, including purses, make-up and T-shirts. There were about 20 items in all, police said, with some of the stuff from Burlington Coat Factory, but other items affixed with sales tags from Target and Walmart.
The father of one of the kids busted said he wants Crandall locked up for how police say she manipulated his daughter.
"I have a lot of choice words I’d like to say to her. I am upset," said David Adam. "This woman was bringing our children and her children to stores and telling them it’s ridiculous they can’t afford to buy this stuff."
Adam recounted that his daughter started showing up with new clothes a few weeks ago and told him a friend's parent bought the stuff as part of a buy one, get one free sale.
He said he has turned off his daughter's cell phone and grounded her indefinitely.
Although he may have missed signs from his daughter, he said he's coming forward to try and help other parents.
"So if other parents see this behavior going on, they can be aware that maybe other parents aren’t buying their kids clothes and they’re sending them in to steal it," stressed Adam.
Police said Crandall could have hit 20 or more stores during her multi-week kiddie-caper. They said she didn’t just drive everyone to the stores, but sometimes supervised their shoplifting and stole items herself.
Neubauer knows what she'd say to Crandall if they could talk face-to-face: "You’re a mother. What were you thinking?"
Crandall now faces four misdemeanor counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. But police said they may pursue additional charges as they continue to investigate.