Tuesday, June 27, 2006


That headline might make you think this is one of those weirder-than-strange stories that occasionally crops up in the media for a few weeks, or months, and is then exposed as an urban myth.

Maybe that might be the case with other stories about gangs of travestites going on shoplifting jags, but not this story of transvestite shoplifters causing terror and mayhem in the high-end fashion district of New Orleans.

Store owners in New Orleans have been hit a number of times, clocking up thousands of dollars worth of losses. Now they're on the lookout, and warning each other when they see the gang approaching the shopping district :

Sarah Celino at Trashy Diva eyes the door, ready to flip the lock at the first sight of the ringleader’s pink jumpsuit and fluorescent red wig.

Down at Turncoats, where the fashion-happy gang once made off with more than $2,000 in merchandise, store manager Wes Davis stands ready.

Davis said it wasn’t supposed to be like this. They survived Hurricane Katrina’s Category 3 winds and the ensuing looters. They reopened despite the long odds of doing business in a devastated city. The last thing the Magazine Street shop owners expected to threaten their survival was a crime ring of transvestites.

“They’re fearless,” said (a store owner). “Once they see something they like they won’t stop until they have it.”

The transvestites first appeared in March when they raided Magazine Street like a marauding army of kleptomaniacal showgirls, said Davis, using clockwork precision and brute force to satisfy high-end boutique needs.

In the ensuing weeks, the gang of transvestites continued their reign of terror.

“The city’s not functioning the way it was and I’m sure a lot of them were getting some kind of government aid, which they probably aren’t getting any more so they’re incredibly desperate.”

And sometimes violent.

When Lewis co-owned Trashy Diva, they attacked one of her partners in the French Quarter location, throwing her to the ground and tossing a heavy mannequin on top of her.

“They’re kind of confused because they think they’re women so they don’t mind hitting women, but they’re dudes. If you get hit by one it’s like getting hit by a dude. ... Because the police are so poorly staffed, we’re kind of on our own but the system we have seems to be working. I haven’t seen them in at least a week but they’ll be back. They’re never gone for long.”

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