SOMETHING WAS weird about the young guy Pam Krewson saw sitting at McDonald's, at Broad and Arch streets. He had a woman's pocketbook under his arm.
Maybe he's holding it for a girlfriend, Krewson thought as she bought her coffee. But then she saw him leave, carrying an oblong ladies' wallet.
Suspicious, she inspected the booth where he'd been sitting. Shoved into the seat crevice was the pocketbook, empty.
"Oh, no, you didn't," said Krewson, 60. She thought about the times she'd lost her own pocketbook and how miserable it had been to cancel credit cards, replace keys, earn back the dollars that had gone missing. So she grabbed the pocketbook and her coffee and followed the man, who was walking north on Broad.
She trailed him from across the street while she puzzled over what to do. Relieved, she noticed two uniformed Philadelphia police officers heading toward her.
"I said, 'Excuse me, that man over there has a wallet that isn't his!' " recalls Krewson, a grandmother who works as a clerk for the Department of Human Services. "I showed them the empty pocketbook and told them how the man had it in McDonald's."
The officers - she didn't get their badge numbers but says they were youngish white males - told her they were off-duty and didn't have their radios with them.
So there was nothing they could do, they told her. They advised her to do nothing, too, because the man might be dangerous.
"They wouldn't even accompany me, for moral support. I mean, they had guns and bulletproof vests!" says Krewson. Her own son is a police officer, married to a detective, so she knows that bulky-vest look when she sees it.
Disgusted, she ignored their advice and confronted the perp at Broad and Vine streets.
"I might've been scared if he was 6-foot-5 and weighed 250," says Krewson, who describes herself as "a person who gets involved when something happens." But he was about her height - 5-foot-4 - skinny and toothless.
"I held up the pocketbook and said,'Yo, pal, does this look familiar?' " says Krewson. "He immediately said,'I went to your house to return it, but no one was home!' I said, 'Really? What address?' Of course, he had no answer. I told him to hand over the wallet."
He obliged but asked Krewson to first remove three things he'd tucked in the wallet: his library card, driver's license and - wait for it - his probation officer's business card.
"I gave him back the library card and the license but I kept the probation card. I said, 'I'm keeping this, pal! And I'm sure you'll be hearing from your probation officer.' "
And then they parted ways, which must've been one awkward goodbye.
Back at work, Krewson examined the wallet's innards and found credit, debit and insurance cards and a passport issued to someone named Ariane Burke-Finucan. She looked up her number and called her.
Burke-Finucan was home, in Fairmount, with her son Owen, 4. She'd taken off work because her pocketbook - which had held her keys - had gone missing the day before while she lunched in Sister Cities Park on Logan Square. She'd canceled her bank cards and was at that moment having the locks changed on her house.
"I screamed when Pam told me she had my purse," says Burke-Finucan. "I felt like I had my identity back."
An hour later, she and Owen met Krewson at LOVE Park, where Krewson was waiting with the wallet - and a balloon for Owen.
"She was so courageous!" says Burke-Finucan, 34, who moved with her husband and son from Pittsburgh to Philly two years ago and works at the Philadelphia Education Fund. "I wanted to give her something for her trouble, but she said I should pay it forward."
Later, she sent Krewson thank-you flowers and chocolate-covered strawberries. The card read, "To my favorite Philadelphian."
Obviously, Krewson took a risk when she confronted the perp, which the Philadelphia police don't suggest we do, says spokesman Lt. John Sanford.
"We advise you to call 9-1-1 instead," he says, because the perp may be armed.
That's why, he says, it was wise for the uniformed officers not to confront the perp themselves, since they'd be unable to radio for backup if things got hairy.
"But they still should've been good witnesses. They should've called 9-1-1, identified themselves as off-duty officers and provided a detailed description" of the perp, says Stanford.
The Philadelphia Probation Department sprang into action when Krewson reported the incident. A supervisor identified the suspect as Vu Nguyen, whose criminal record includes theft and drug arrests. Nguyen had recently missed an appointment with his probation officer, and this additional, alleged violation was the last straw.
"He's now in custody," Rich McSorley, deputy court administrator for the criminal courts, told me Thursday. "We picked him up yesterday morning."
I think Krewson deserves a nice vacation for her bravery. But she says it'll be a while until she and her husband can afford the cruise she's dying to take.
"I need a $1,500 hearing aid," she says, since her old one short-circuited in a rainstorm she weathered with her grandson. "My insurance won't cover it, so the cruise will have to wait."
Maybe those two lazy cops will read this column, feel some shame, and slide Krewson a few dollars for her vacation fund.
As a "thank you" for doing their job for them.
On Twitter: @RonniePhilly