Justine Caswell from Arun Court in Fairlands, East Preston, was shopping with her friend Sylvia in Worthing when the incident occurred.
She said: “They haven’t only stolen my money and my purse; they have stolen Worthing from me.
“I have so many nice memories of the town; it was such a lovely place to visit.
“But now they have stolen my confidence of Worthing. I shall feel creepy if I walk around there now.”
The 74-year-old was in the British Heart Foundation shop in Chapel Road at around lunchtime on Thursday.
She said she put her handbag on the ground to try on a coat – and after putting it back she noticed her bag had been opened and her purse was missing.
The grandmother of two was shopping for bedsheets for her disabled friend at the time, and was in Worthing because she had taken Sylvia to the hospital’s A&E department to treat her eye problems.
The retired Body Shop employee said: “It is just so heartbreaking to think you have gone out there with the best will in the world to find sheets for a friend and this happens.
“It takes all your faith in human nature away.
“I can’t express how depressed I feel.
“It makes you sick to the stomach to think someone could behave this way.”
In the purse was £80, her bank cards and driving licence, as well as pictures of her family, including her two late husbands.
She said: “They are little things which mean a lot to me, but won’t mean anything to anyone else.
“I lost my husband 18 months ago. You have crappy times in your life when things go wrong, but to have someone leave their house with the purpose of doing this is disgraceful.”
She warned other women not to put their handbags down when shopping and to ‘watch yourself all the time’.
The pensioner reported the theft the same day at Worthing Police Station.
Anyone with information can email Sussex Police at [email protected] or call 101.
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