MANHATTAN – Good Samaritans helped police track down the suspect in a brazen crime Friday morning on the Upper East Side, following the man they saw swipe the plastic tip jar full of cash right off the counter of Ella’s Cafe in Lenox Hill, until NYPD officers could swoop in and make an arrest.
“He walked right in the store up to the counter, grabbed the jar, and just turned around and walked out,” said Betsy Kelly, a regular customer who witnessed the theft unfold just after 9:30 am and started recording on her cell phone.
“It was very cavalier. He wasn’t running or anything,” she noted.
“The poor guy who worked [at Ella’s Cafe] was just pleading with him in the street to give it back, and he was just swinging around.”
The thief didn’t end up giving the tip jar or the money back, workers at Ella’s Cafe and witnesses told Upper East Site on Friday, however, two regular customers by the names of Ari and Dominic didn’t give up on getting it back.
Speaking with Upper East Site outside of Ella’s Cafe— located on Second Avenue near East 76th Street— Ari explained how he was on the phone with police as he and his friend tailed the thief all the way to East 78th Street to Park Avenue, where NYPD officers caught up with them and put suspect in cuffs.
“He was just walking and we just kept following him,” said Ari, a regular customer at Ella’s.
“I was on the phone 911… and we just kept following him and telling the police where he was,” he added.
Tips are for hard-workers, NOT career criminals!— NYPD 19th Precinct (@NYPD19Pct) May 17, 2022
After a well known thief swiped a tip jar from a local cafe & ran, good samaritans called 911 & pursued the suspect—Our cops responded fast, found the culprit, arrested him again, & returned the stolen money to grateful employees. pic.twitter.com/HgR1HRO5fD
Investigators identified the suspect to Upper East Site as 65-year-old King Willie from Queens— he’s now charged with petit larceny.
After collaring the alleged crook, police returned the tip jar to Ella’s Cafe, where it was back in its spot on the counter Friday afternoon, where it belonged— to the relief of workers and customers.
“The restaurant industry has been through so much over the last few years,” said Betsy.
“And to see just such a brazen criminal act, at a small, local place was almost unbelievable.”