Thief takes Sunday newspapers, clips coupons, and returns them to store

photo A file photo of newspaper coupon inserts.
Arkansas-North Carolina Live Blog

It might all have been in the name of savings.

Dollar Store Manager Deborah Jackson in Athens, Tenn., thought her newspaper carrier was leaving something out of her stack of Chattanooga Times Free Press newspapers when the Sunday edition was dropped off at the business.

Coupons inserted in the region's biggest newspaper of the week were missing, she said. Customers complained that they wanted their coupons or they wanted no paper at all, Jackson said, and she passed the complaints along to her carrier, Debbie Maynard.

"She looked at me like I was crazy," Jackson said, laughing at the carrier's reaction. "She said, 'Do you think somebody's stealing them?' And I said, 'No, no. They [the coupons] just aren't in there.'

"She said, 'I put them in there myself,'" Jackson said.

Jackson decided to investigate further by reviewing some of the store's security video.

"Lo and behold what do I see? Car pulls up, chickadee gets out, comes over and scoops all of my papers up and she leaves," Jackson said. "She's gone a little while, then she comes back and she brings the papers back, but there's not any coupons in them because she took them out."

Jackson filed a police report and showed Athens police video from the past three weeks revealing the same activity. Last Sunday, Jackson was at her store early, ready to relay a head's-up to police if a coupon heist was on.

It was.

After Jackson's phone call, officers found 23-year-old Christina Lynn Soward, of 2009 Layman Road, Athens, at a nearby business with a bundle of newspapers, said Athens Police Detective Sgt. Heath Willis.

"She'd snapped open the bundle and she was in the process of taking the coupons out," he said. "When the Athens policeman said, 'What are you doing?' she said, 'I didn't think it was illegal to do this. I didn't think I was breaking the law.'"

The officer explained that clipping coupons from papers she didn't purchase amounts to theft.

Soward was charged with three counts of theft under $500 and was later freed on $1,500 bond, officials said. She's due in court Sept. 22.

"This lady isn't a huge criminal. It's her first arrest," Willis said. All the same, theft is theft, he said.

Willis said he had heard complaints that someone was following a carrier for the local paper, the Daily Post-Athenian, and taking the entire paper from home delivery boxes on days when a coupon book was inserted. That was followed by reports that some of the Times Free Press' Sunday papers were missing coupons, he said.

"These angry lady shoppers on Sunday are pretty mad," Willis said. "These kind of crimes, which on their face are really nothing, can cause bigger problems with the general public."

Coupons are a hot commodity in a down economy, said Mark Morris, zone manager for the Times Free Press circulation department. He said people have been stealing Sunday papers frequently in the Athens area.

"Coupons are a big deal because of all the couponing people do," Morris said. "Anything somebody can save a little money with, they're going to take advantage of it. That's like gold."