By Steve Thomas

Observer Nevis Editor

(Charlestown, Nevis) – Larry Hepler is a furniture maker. Alice Early is a writer and consultant. They live on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts, U.S., in a small community where people routinely leave their doors unlocked and the keys in their cars. Although Martha’s Vineyard is popularly known as a place where rich and famous Americans like to vacation in the summer, it is also a place where everyday people live and work and save – people like Mr. Hepler and Ms. Early.

For more than a decade, Mr. Hepler and Ms. Early have saved their money and come to Nevis for their vacation. They usually rent a small house, shop in the markets and enjoy the scenery.

“We’ve been coming 13 or 14 years. For us, this is the place to come,” Ms. Early said.

And this year, on the night of Easter Sunday, they were robbed.

They were staying in a wooden cottage in the Ramsbury area, nothing large or fancy, a place they had rented in the past. One section of the cottage has a kitchen and a living room, divided by a counter, where several barstools stand. A breezeway with a round table that seats four people links that section with the other section, which has a bedroom and the bathroom. One long side of the cottage has a porch facing the sea, the other side opens on a garden filled with bushes and trees, a bench and stone steps, but no outdoor light. The yard has a fence and a gate. There is no lock on the gate. There are no burglar bars on the windows.

Just before 9 p.m. Easter Sunday, Mr. Hepler and Ms. Early were eating dinner in the breezeway. As they ate, a thief slipped out of the darkness and into the kitchen, where Ms. Early’s purse sat on a barstool. The thief went into her purse and stole her cash – about US$500 – and her cell phone.

“He dug for the wallet. It was down at the bottom,” she said. “He left the purse there so it looked perfectly normal.”

Just before 9:30, Mr. Hepler and Ms. Early finished their meal. They cleared off the breezeway table and went to the kitchen, where they began cleaning.

Mr. Hepler, needing to use the bathroom, walked out of the kitchen, reached the edge of the breezeway and at that moment, everything changed.

“I heard him scream,” Ms. Early said.

When he reached the edge of the breezeway, Mr. Hepler saw a man emerging from the bedroom, a black backpack in his hand, quietly closing the door and starting to move toward the darkness of the garden- about 15 feet from where Mr. Hepler stood.

Mr. Hepler yelled at the man and started running after him. The thief got as far as the garden and hesitated in the darkness, perhaps unsure of which way to go. Mr. Hepler grabbed the backpack and he and the thief rolled to the ground, each trying to pull the backpack out of the other’s grasp.

“I pulled as hard as I could and he pulled back,” Mr. Hepler said. In that instant, Mr. Hepler thought of a friend’s friend who, some years ago, got in a fight for his backpack with a thief in Mexico.

“(The thief) turned and shot him in the face,” Mr. Hepler said. In that instant of Mr. Hepler’s recollection, the thief tore the backpack away.

“I let go of him and, zoom – he was out of there,” Mr. Hepler said.

Ms. Early, in the kitchen, could hear what was happening in the dark garden.

“My immediate thought was, ‘Is Larry all right?’ I knew he was in a squabble with someone. I didn’t know if (the thief) had a weapon.”

The thief disappeared into the darkness, presumably running in one direction or another down the street, taking the backpack that had Mr. Hepler’s camera, sunglasses, passport, about US$1,000 and some personal items.

Mr. Hepler is willing to pay a reward for the return of his items, especially his passport.

Then a different kind of darkness stole into their lives.

“I wondered if the guy was really gone,” Ms. Early said. “Then I was completely creeped out that he had been watching us. This was planned. This was not a snatch. . . We felt very violated. We’re careful when we’re at the beach. We’re careful with our things.”

“I didn’t feel scared,” Mr. Hepler said, “but now, when I go into the bedroom, I look in the corners.”

Things changed for them.

“The first night after Easter, we had on all the lights. We altered the pattern of the way we live in this house,” Ms. Early said. “I’m still kind of agape at what he did.”

Mr. Hepler and Ms. Early said they fear what these incidents can do to the island.

“Part of the reason we loved it here was that it wasn’t a crime-ridden place. I don’t think we did anything stupid and we were still victims,” Ms. Early said.

“It’s exactly the reason why a lot of people wouldn’t come back. And tell other people not to come,” Mr. Hepler said. “If it happens to enough people – especially if you don’t have a vested interest in the island – it could really hurt things.”

Mr. Hepler and Ms. Early are also thinking about the thief.

“If this kind of thing happens and a person like that keeps getting away with things, maybe next time he’ll have a weapon with him. If a person like that isn’t stopped, the pattern is that he gets more severe,” he said.

“We don’t know if people are preying on their neighbors here,” she said. “It’s a violation of your whole community. It is so selfish. They will change the balance of the community forever. It’s a selfish act that harms everybody. We’re looking at everyone suspiciously.”

Mr. Hepler describes the thief as a light-skinned black male, about 20 years old, 5’10”, about 170 pounds, medium build with loose curly hair that extended to the bottom of his ears. The thief was wearing a black shirt and short black pants.

The police are investigating the theft, but no arrest has been made.

Today, Mr. Hepler and Ms. Early say they haven’t given up on Nevis and that they will come back – which is good news.

The bad news is the thief is still out there, perhaps enjoying his purloined gains and possibly planning his next outrage. It is important to remember he is no Robin Hood, no Prince of Thieves; he is a filcher of things bought with hard, honest work; a destroyer of tranquility and trust; and worst of all, a thief of the good name of Nevis.