Marie Alexander taught two women a valuable lesson this week: Don't mess with another woman's purse.
"A woman's pocketbook is a like a filing cabinet," said Alexander, whose brown leather handbag contains phone numbers, coughdrops and precious reminders of her deceased husband.
Alexander, who uses a cane due to recent leg injuries, placed her purse on the car seat Tuesday as she prepared to leave a Winn-Dixie parking lot.
Two young women approached her car, one knocking on the driver's window and a second watching from an open passenger window.
Since the driver's window was broken and taped shut, Alexander opened her door. That's when the other woman grabbed the pocketbook and took off, she says. Alexander, 54, left her cane and began running after the women, who climbed into a nearby white Toyota. Alexander reached the car and grabbed the open driver's window, pulling violently until it broke.
"The woman yelled, "I thought it was my purse,' " Alexander said.
Alexander said she called the woman a liar, delivered a back-handed blow to her face and then grabbed the purse moments before the two drove away.
"They saw me with the gray hair and the cane and thought I was an easy target," she said.
The two women were arrested Wednesday in woods in northern Citrus County. They are accused of stealing Alexander's purse and the purse of 78-year-old Elizabeth McGivern of Beverly Hills, whose bag was snatched as she walked from an ATM at a SunTrust bank about 12 miles northeast of the Winn-Dixie, Citrus sheriff's officials said.
The parking lot incident brought Alexander much attention Thursday afternoon as she stood in the same lot at 3792 S Suncoast Blvd. and recounted Tuesday's events.
She showed digital photographs of the car window lying on the ground.
Friends and strangers stopped to congratulate her.
"I thought it was the neatest thing ever," Ann Hovet of Homosassa said after hearing Alexander's tale. "I'm going to hang with her."
At a church service Wednesday night, a man jokingly asked Alexander for her autograph.
Alexander is well-known at the grocery store, where she's been a regular customer for several years.
She arrived at the store Tuesday not to shop but to check on one of the employees whose husband was ill, she said.
When she learned the employee wasn't at work, Alexander bought a bag of salad mix and headed back to her car. She usually locks her purse in the trunk, she said, but since she was going straight home she placed it on the seat.
That's when she heard a tap on her driver's window.
After that, she said, instinct kicked in.
"God was with me that morning, that's all I can say," said Alexander, whose husband died seven months ago of emphysema.
The search for the suspects ended Wednesday when a Citrus sheriff's sergeant driving on U.S. 19 in the north part of the county saw a white Toyota with two women inside and a broken driver's window, said spokeswoman Gail Tierney.
By the time the sergeant pulled off U.S. 19, both occupants had abandoned the car, she said.
Authorities later found the women in nearby woods after a man told deputies two women ran through his house and into the woods.
Tina Louise Stonerock, 31, of 4235 Mandrake, Crystal River, and Delores Ann Boggs, 28, of 309 NW Crystal, Crystal River, were arrested at 5 p.m. Wednesday, according to arrest reports.
Both signed statements admitting to the purse snatchings and face charges of burglary of a conveyance and robbery by a sudden snatch, according to reports.
Stonerock also faces charges of burglary of a dwelling and grand theft in connection with a Crystal River Police Department investigation into the theft of a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle in December, according to a report.
Both women were held at the Citrus County jail Thursday evening.
"Yesterday was Day 1 no excitement in Citrus County," Alexander said Thursday morning. "I hope today is Day 2."
She said she hopes her story will teach people not to pick on seemingly easy targets.
"You don't take what's mine," she said.
Times researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at (352) 860-7312 or vansicklesptimes.com.