Armed robbers yesterday morning made off with an estimated $10 million in cash and jewellery from a pawn shop at Vigilance, East Coast Demerara.
The attack occurred at about 8:30 am at Vinod’s One Love Pawnshop, police said in a statement. During the robbery, two female sales clerks, Samantha Hitlall, 24, and Ruth Spencer, 37, were held at gunpoint and one was assaulted by the three bandits, one of whom was armed with a handgun.
Spencer told Stabroek News that a little after 8 am, she was “counting out” some money for the day’s work, when “a guy came in and asked if I got any $1,000 GT&T card—we does normally sell phone cards—and she [Samantha] said ‘no, only $200 card’ so he left and went out.”
According the woman, as soon as the first man exited the shop, a second man entered and asked if his ID card was needed for him to pawn something, to which Hitlall replied “yes”, while approaching the counter to attend to him.
At this point, Spencer, still counting the cash, said she heard the man order her colleague not to move. She looked up to see what was wrong, but “I thought was a joke, so I continue counting, ’cause I thought was one of she friends making joke.”
Spencer related that she then heard the command a second time and on looking at her colleague’s facial expression and realised that something was amiss. “Then he tell me come to the counter and he tell me open the door [the bottom counter door leading to the back of the counter and into the shop], and when I open it, the one who come in first come back and come through the door,” she recalled.
The armed bandit then ordered Hitlall to open the grill door that leads into the glass case below the counter, after which the first man wrenched the padlock off the inner door open and began packing his haversack with all the gold jewellery. Spencer said the armed bandit then made his way behind the counter to join them and “put the gun to my head and said ‘give me the money’ but when I did, he said ‘this ain’t look like all the money’, so he ask for the rest of the money. And I tell him, more ain’t deh.” Angered by her response, the bandit then gun-butted her to the right temple, forcing her to open her desk drawer to prove to him that there was indeed no more money.
Spencer said there were apparently a few thousand dollars at the back of the drawer, which the bandit also took. “They cleared out all the gold from the top shelf and left all the silver on the bottom shelf,” she said. Hitlall also related that she was robbed of a gold chain and three gold rings, which she was ordered to take off.
Seeing nothing more of value to take with them, the men then made their escape. The women recalled that during the entire ordeal, which lasted a few minutes, a third bandit was seen outside, making constant checks in the door of the shop. After the men left the shop, Hitlall then ran outside and alerted her father, proprietor of the pawn shop Vino Hitlall, called ‘Vinod.’
When his daughter ran to him and shouted “Daddy, all awe gold gone,” Vinod said he then ran upstairs and retrieved his gun, then jumped into his vehicle and gave chase in the direction that the men fled. However, after circling the area, including the seaside, for some time, his search came up empty.
The incident was reported to the Vigilance Police Station, located a stone’s throw away from the pawn shop, and later the proprietor received a call from the police stating that the men had been apprehended.
However, when he arrived at the location where he was told the men were held, he was informed that the perpetrators had escaped.
This is the first time that the pawn shop has been attacked in an armed robbery. The incident comes just days after a man entered his shop and tried to pay him with counterfeit notes. Vinod said that on Friday last, a man entered his shop and said that someone called ‘Dilly’ had sent him to order jewellery. Vinod related that the man paid him US$200 in advance for the jewellery and also exchanged US$800, after which he left. The proprietor said the man then returned Saturday and paid US$200 more in advance and exchanged US$900. The US currency, Vinod said, felt a little strange and looked extra new, but he related that he “didn’t ask the man anything”.
After the stranger left, the proprietor said he then proceeded to check the money with a pen “and it show black instead of yellowish” and, with the help of others, upon further inspection he realised that the money was fake. Vinod said he then attempted to catch the culprit red-handed by having his wife summon him to the shop for another transaction and by calling the police at the same time, but the man escaped.