BRADENTON — Chris and Emma Cox spent Saturday night dancing at The Pavilion at Mixon Farms as happy newlyweds. But as the couple celebrated their wedding with family and friends, no one suspected a thief was circling the parking lot, waiting to strike.
It wasn’t until the next morning when the Clearwater couple realized something was wrong. The bag containing their marriage license, wedding cards and thousands of dollars in cash, checks and gift cards had disappeared.
“Every single card was stolen from their wedding, and it happened in a matter of minutes," said Brandy Harlan, the venue’s director of marketing and lead coordinator, in a Facebook Live video Monday.
The venue’s nearly 50 security cameras captured the entire crime on tape. Footage shows a woman wearing a suit enter the parking lot in a silver Ford Explorer. Over two hours, she parked at various spots outside the hall. At one point, she got out of the car and went into the venue.
After the festivities ended around 11 p.m., Emma Cox’s father drove her new husband’s truck over to the roundabout for loading. He placed a plain gray cooler bag — filled with extra clothing, the bride’s wedding heels, the marriage license and money — in the back seat of the car.
When he went inside to get the leftover food and cake, the woman walked across the roundabout and made a beeline for the truck’s door.
“Literally within a minute of him leaving the truck, the lady came and took the bag and left," Emma Cox said.
Surveillance footage shows the woman exiting the area through a garden path surrounded by orange trees. Then she got into her parked car and drove away.
“Based on the footage I would say no younger than 30, no older than 50, 55 at the latest,” Brandy said. “She definitely moved quick.”
Later that night, Emma Cox wanted to change out of her dress. She asked her mother for the bag. When they realized it was gone, Emma Cox had an inkling that the bag had been stolen. But she didn’t want to cause a fuss on the special night.
The couple had planned to spend the next day at Siesta Key Beach. Instead, they packed up their belongings and left their Airbnb to file a police report.
“We wanted to enjoy our first day of marriage, but all we could think about was someone was trying to hurt us,” Emma Cox said. “It kind of put a cloud over our first day of marriage."
The next day, the bag was still nowhere to be seen. Security footage confirmed her fear.
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Harlan suspects the theft was an “inside job.” A guest, or perhaps a vendor, must have tipped off the woman about the bag.
The couple didn’t have a chance to count the money in the bag but estimates gifts from the 166 guests totaled between $3,000 and $5,000.
The theft came just weeks after someone else stole a leaf blower off the venue’s property in broad daylight. Before that, Harlan wasn’t aware of any other thefts at the venue in the past ten years.
“We’ve had thousands and thousands of guests and hundreds and hundreds of events and nothing like this has ever happened," she said. “We do have internal precautions in place that we don’t share with the public.”
Footage showed the license plate of the thief’s car. Harlan expects that Manatee County Sheriff’s deputies will be able to locate the suspect.
“Hopefully we can catch the person who obviously is struggling and is hurting,” Chris Cox said in a video posted on the couple’s travel vlog Facebook page. “If you could, just be in prayer with us that this person finds a place in their heart to return the bag that they stole and everything in it.”
“If she came forward and gave us back our stuff and truly was sorry, I would thank her," Emma Cox said.
In the meantime, her sister-in-law launched a GoFundMe page to raise money to offset what was lost.
As the venue continues to sort through security footage and bring more evidence to the sheriff’s department, the Cox couple is trying to stay positive. Their next move is to get a new marriage license.
“We still are married, we want to make it official for the state of Florida," Emma Cox said. "Life keeps going.”