As I Wuz Just Thinking: Smash and Grab

Downtown Kilgore during the days when gangs from Dallas came to burglarize the stores. The Toggery and Jordan’s were two of the most popular fashion stores for women. Photograph from Terry Stembridge

They grabbed the expensive items – jewelry and clothes – and in a matter of minutes rushed out of the store.

Watching the news on television, the Smash & Grab taking place in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and other cities brought to mind the theft that took place in several of the downtown stores in Kilgore during the mid-1980s.

A smash and grab is a particular form of burglary that involves smashing a barrier, usually a display window in a shop or a showcase, grabbing valuables, and then making a quick getaway, without concern for setting off alarms or creating noise.

Betty Mahurin Baker

I was working for the local Toggery Store, a woman’s apparel and accessories shop, when several groups from the Dallas area came to Kilgore.  One day, a group of several people came into the store at the same time, spreading out separately into different areas to try on clothes, shoes, and jewelry.

They all took the time of the lady salespersons, asking for the prices of the items.  They did not make purchases. We didn’t know it, but these persons were scoping out the store that first day.

A few days later, this group returned, immediately going toward the sections of the expensive items, grabbing the jewelry and clothes, and in a matter of minutes, they rushed out of the store. They were gone before anyone could stop them. And how could a handful of ladies stop a gang anyway?

At least, these groups were not “smashing” through glass windows or display cases like they are in today’s society, but they did quickly steal everything of value. They knew where it was. They had already priced it. It was a well-rehearsed operation.

Mr. Lacy, the owner, quickly phoned the police and also phoned the other local shops to warn them about this group.  Some of the other stores had already been hit at the same time, and the thieves were speeding away in their automobiles.

I believe these groups also hit stores in Henderson and Gladewater. But some never made it back to Dallas. They were captured on their way home.

At that time, stores were not equipped with cameras, nor did we have cell phones to take pictures.

Kilgore merchants could barely keep their stores open because they had lost so much of their profits to the thieves.

It was a sad day as I wuz just thinking.

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