The staff at the Barracks Road Plow and Hearth had always thought there was something strange about customer Vance Brown, the man arrested April 26 for the robbery of Wood Grill Buffet. They just didn’t connect his unusual behavior with the possibility that Brown could be a suspect in the three robberies at the shopping center a couple of months ago.
“He’d been trying to scam us for a long time,” says sales associate Sandy Adams, “making returns without a receipt and trying to get cash back.”
What first aroused the suspicions of the staff? “He came initially and was overly friendly, acting as if he knew everyone,” says employee Greg Lewis. And then there's the tatoo. “Having a tattoo on the top of your head," Lewis notes, "makes you stand out.”
At Plow and Hearth, it’s very rare for someone to come in as often as Brown did, says Lewis. And while the store has plenty of “eccentric customers,” Lewis says Brown managed to attract more attention than others.
Brown’s odyssey at the Barracks Road store started with a pair of shoes that he purchased and returned the next day– along with two pairs of top-of-the-line Felco pruning shears. He had a receipt for the shoes, but not for the $57.95 pruners.
“We remembered that around the holidays, we’d found two empty packages for the pruning shears,” says Lewis. Some employees suspected Brown had stolen them.
Did Brown seem like a gardening kind of guy? “We were very suspicious after the pruning shears came back,” says Lewis. Although the store has a very liberal return policy, Brown was given a store credit rather than cash.
With his store credit, Brown special-ordered a pair of size 47 Danskos, a pricey, clog-like shoe in what Lewis describes as an “abnormal size.” Brown came in several times to ask about the footwear.
When the shoes arrived, Brown picked them up and appeared to really like them, according to Lewis-– but then he came in the next day and tried to return them for cash, saying he’d bought them as a gift. Because he’d purchased the shoes on store credit, the management opted not to give cash.
And the next day, reports Lewis, Brown was arrested wearing the special-order Danskos. How does Lewis know? “A friend of mine works in corrections and saw what [Brown] was wearing when he was arrested.”
He adds, “It’s a small town.”
“I thoroughly believe he was the Barracks Road robber,” says Sandy Adams, although both she and Lewis were surprised when Brown was arrested for the Wood Grill robbery.
After the Barracks Road robberies, employees at Plow and Hearth became so fearful that they were parking in front of the store and not using the back door to come in, Adams recalls.
“And here he’s in the store everyday, and we’re rolling our eyes when he comes in,” she says.
There was even a composite sketch right by the cash register of the man who robbed Barnes and Noble, Lindt Chocolate Shop, and Ben and Jerry’s. “We never knew it was him,” says Adams.
In fact, says City spokesman Maurice Jones, police are investigating the possibility of a connection between Brown and the Barracks Road robberies, but no charges had been filed as of press time.
To Adams, the 32-year-old Brown seemed “not wrapped tight.” She explains: “He seemed a little bit too hip, a little bit too friendly, a little bit too nervous. Nothing was right about him.”
In homage to their first-hand brushes with the suspected Barracks Road robber, the Plow and Hearth staff assembled the “Vance Brown Memorial” bulletin board with the empty pruner packages, a newspaper clipping of his arrest, and the special order card for his Danskos with his name and address.
Brown’s attorney, public defender Llezelle Dugger, could not confirm her client’s shoe preference and denied The Hook’s request for an interview with Brown.
All along, the Barracks Road robber seemed to prefer the more upscale stores for his hits: Brown is not a suspect in the recent robberies of the more déclassé Payless Shoesource and Super Shoes, according to county police.
Ah, the tales those Danskos could tell…