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Wyckoff police arrest ex-con in string of school mom purse thefts

Photo Credit: Boyd A. Loving (INSET: Courtesy WYCKOFF PD

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: An ongoing investigation into a rash of car burglaries and thefts of credit cards and cash from women’s purses led to the arrest of an ex-con with an extensive history of similar crimes who Wyckoff police said was caught on surveillance video.

On Jan. 17 and April 2, women who left their purses in their unlocked cars while dropping off their children at Washington Elementary School were victimized, Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin Fox.

In both cases, the chief said, they discovered later that day that someone had entered their cars and removed credit cards and cash.

A review of surveillance tapes at the stores where the credit cards were used showed that in both instances the same person was involved — 50-year-old John F. Clarke of the Bronx.

Clarke has been arrested and charged by Wyckoff police alone for identical crimes four times over more than a decade, Fox said.

“He continues to spend considerable time” in North Jersey, the chief said. “He goes to parking lots of schools, churches and businesses looking for unlocked cars with visible purses or wallets inside. He enters the vehicle taking only cash and credit cards.

“Because the theft is often not immediately discovered by the victim because their purse or wallet is still in the car,” Fox said, “it allowed Clarke to use the credit cards before they are reported stolen.

“Often gift cards are purchased with the stolen credit cards because they will still be good after the original card is reported stolen,” he said.

Wyckoff Police Det. Sgt. Michael Musto charged Clarke on April 22 with two counts of burglary of an auto, theft, and illegal use of a credit card, and a Municipal Court judge signed a warrant, with bail set at $50,000.

Borough police were actively searching for Clarke, and an alert was issued for the vehicle he was known to drive.

Just before 4:30 yesterday afternoon, Patrolman Mark Tagliareni spotted the car on Route 208 near Grandview Avenue.

Clarke was stopped, arrested without incident and taken after processing to the Bergen County Jail, where he remained this morning.

PHOTO: Boyd A. Loving (INSET: Courtesy WYCKOFF PD)

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