'Hugging Bandit' Suspect Off the Streets

Police say Myra Castleberry targeted men as they left Buffalo bars tipsy.


May 16, 2007 — -- Lurking in the darkness as unwitting, drunken patrons stumbled from local bars in Buffalo, N.Y., Myra Castleberry, a 200-pound, 48-year-old local woman, would execute her decade-long pickpocket ruse as she leaned in for a hug and took off with cash, according to police.

Buffalo police said Tuesday that they had arrested Castleberry, known as the "hugging bandit" and wanted by area authorities for a string of thefts -- most of them taking place between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. in the city's nightlife district.

"The biggest problem was the fact that there wasn't anybody who could identify her," said Michael Degeorge, spokesman for the Buffalo Police Department. "People came forward and said, 'This happened,' but they couldn't give a description because they were drunk."

Police have been actively looking for Castleberry since August 2005, when they issued a warrant for her arrest in connection with an incident in which police said she fondled and then stole $238 from a local man, who ID'd the suspect.

Sunday, police tracked Castleberry to a Buffalo address and arrested her for grand larceny.

Described by Degeorge as the prime suspect in dozens of "hugging" pickpocket incidents over the past decade, Castleberry was arrested 17 times for a variety of charges between 1998 and 2005.

Castleberry is being held without bail until a felony court appearance Friday.

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