Great-Grandma, 83, Fights off Purse Snatcher

March 15, 2008 4:12 AM EDT

Santa Fe N.M. (AP)
(Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican,

Great-grandmother 1, would-be robber 0.

Bernie Garcia at first thought the young man who approached her asking for money while she gassed up her car seemed like a sweet guy.

One of the Seven Survival Signals that can predict violent behaviour as discussed by Gavin De Becker in The Gift of Fear, is charm or niceness. To charm is to compel, to control by allure or attraction: pg 66. It is a technique that allows the criminal to get close enough to the victim to do his nasty deed.

This approach to Mrs. Garcia by the young man is what Marc Animal MacYoung calls a regular interview.

A quote from his article:
Regular interview:  This is the most common form of interview for muggers. The criminal will approach you under the guise of normalcy, i.e., needing information or small item (e.g. matches). This is a distraction. While he is talking, he is not only getting in position to attack, but

a) checking your awareness about what he is doing and

b) your commitment to defending yourself.

This is why you should always be careful when someone approaches you in a fringe area and asks for something. Your answer should always be "no" and insist on him keeping his distance. Both muggers and stranger rapists often use this technique.


Back to the report:

But when the 83-year-old woman told him Wednesday that she’d just spent all her spare change on gas and had none to give him, he grabbed her purse.

"But I had it wrapped around my wrist twice," Garcia said, and he was unable to pull it away.

While this obviously worked for Mrs. Garcia, other older women who have tried the same trick of wrapping the strap around their wrist have been pulled to the ground and dragged, kicked and punched until they gave up their purse. Broken bones, concussions and contusions usually result.

How much better to have your real money secreted away in an inner pocket with your credit cards so you can use the purse as bait for him to steal. He gets the purse he wants. You save your money from a creep. Everyone is happy in this win-win situation.

She fought back, spraying his shirt with a bit of gasoline from the nozzle she still had in her hand.

Good use of her environment here. Too bad she didn’t get a full shot of gas on him or in his mouth and eyes.

Both of them kept hold of the purse, and he pulled her to the ground and dragged her a short distance until another man confronted him.

The second man demanded,

"Turn her loose, you something something," Garcia said.

The man jumped into a nearby vehicle and fled.

So this time we have the bystander white knight and everyone survived. What a great story. She is very lucky the knight was there or the criminal would probably have beaten her badly to get her purse.

Again, like in the article, Woman Fights off Knife Attack, it was tenacity and perseverance that won the fight, not amazing martial skill nor dependence upon the magic of a taser or pepper spray.

A witness got the license plate number, and three minutes later, police spotted it on U.S. 84-285 and stopped the car - which was reported stolen from Espanola, said Santa Fe Deputy Police Chief Aric Wheeler.

The ending is great:

Garcia and an eyewitness identified one of the men inside as the attacker. He and two other men in the car were charged with robbery and conspiracy.

"They got caught and I’m so glad,"
Garcia said.

She said she felt fine after the attack, and
police say she declined medical attention at the scene. But when she got home, she said, she felt faint and went to bed and woke up Thursday very sore. Her son, a former fire fighter, checked her out and found no broken bones.

"My son said, ’Why didn’t you just give (the purse) up?’" Garcia said. "’Hell no,’ I told him.  "That was my purse. I was fighting for what was mine."

I’d suggest that while her spirit must be applauded that next time she outwit her opponent and fight smarter, not stronger and give him the empty purse.

For deeper insight into this topic:

cover of Total Awareness

Total Awareness: A Woman’s Safety Book





Real Crimes, Real Criminals

How criminals choose their victims. How to make yourself a hard target.



cover of Get ToughGet Tough


Simple effective fighting techniques.