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Posted: 5/6/2004 7:09:56 AM EST

Cross-dressers stealing cars for nightclub jaunts, police say
Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - A group of joyriders has been taking expensive new cars from Alabama dealerships, then driving them to cross-dressing pageants at nightclubs before abandoning them, police said.

The thieves apparently just want the cars to drive to the clubs. "I guess they just wanted to look good when they got there," Birmingham auto theft Sgt. D.P. Smith said Monday.

The group has been giving dealers the slip in lots in Tuscaloosa, Selma, Montgomery, Huntsville and Birmingham. Investigators have recovered about 10 to 15 cars in Birmingham and as far away as New Orleans and Memphis, Tenn. Police also have the keys to at least 20 others.

"We need all dealerships to do an inventory of their keys and their cars. Cars may be missing, and they may not even know it," Smith said.

Investigators have recovered Acuras, Nissans, Volkswagens, Lincoln Navigators and others. Inside those cars, they found dealership pamphlets, business cards and more car keys. They also found makeup, women's clothing and pageant trophies, said Smith.

"It's just like a shopping spree for them," the detective said. "They take them on Thursdays or Fridays and then go to these shows around the Southeast on the weekend."

Smith said the thieves go to dealerships in a group, with two or three swamping a salesperson with questions and requests to see or test drive cars.

Meanwhile, another member of the group waits to see where the salesperson puts the keys. The thieves then take the keys and eventually drive away.

Sometimes the men are dressed as women, sometimes not, but their method has been consistent, Smith said.

Police have charged three men with receiving stolen property in the heists: Decarius Conner, 18; Anthony Erby, 18; and James Hopkins, 22. Erby and Conner are out of jail on bond. Hopkins, who is also charged with escape, remains at large.

Smith said others are involved and more charges could follow. "Hopefully this will slow them down," he said.
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