a man sitting at a desk with a laptop
A woman was caught on a Key West shop's security video reaching into a tip jar on the counter. ARTUR BAKALA/contributed

A New Jersey woman was arrested Sunday after police said she reached into a tip jar on the counter of a Key West store and helped herself to the cash inside.

The incident, at the Funky Rooster Coffee House & Wine Bar, 713 Caroline St., was captured on the store’s security video. 

Key West police officers responded to the store at about 12:30 p.m. 

Within a couple of hours later, police found Elaine A. Earlywine, 63, of Morristown, New Jersey, on Duval Street and arrested her on a misdemeanor charge of theft and taken to the county jail on Stock Island. 

Earlywine is accused of taking about $20 from the tip jar. 

Twenty bucks is 20 bucks, but the amount wasn’t included in the original posts. 

Outraged commenters focused on the crime itself after seeing the image of a tourist dipping into service workers’ earnings in the Florida Keys, with its tourism-dependent economy. From Key Largo to Key West many count on tips to pay the bills. 

“My girls work hard for tips,” the Funky Rooster’s owner Artur Bakala said in an interview. “She stole food from their table.”

Bakala put the video of the incident on Facebook. After the arrest, he posted a still image of Earlywine being arrested. 

The video shows a woman with short hair in a multicolored striped top and shorts walking up to the counter. She calmly reaches her hand into the tip jar and removes cash. Twice.

Within seconds, an employee walks by behind the counter where the woman is waiting to buy a card. 

“So cute,” she tells the cashier, holding up the card. 

She used a credit card to pay for the merchandise, Bakala said.

Arrest made on Duval Street

Police caught up with Earlywine and her daughter, who was at the Funky Rooster with her mother at the time of the incident. They were walking in the 800 block of Duval Street.

a police officer standing next to a bench
Key West police arrest a 63-year-old New Jersey woman for stealing $20 from a tip jar in Key West on June 16, 2024. Contributed

Earlywine denied taking money from the tip jar, police said, even after an officer showed her the security video. 

“She still denied taking money and stated that maybe she bumped the jar but never took out money,” police writer. 

Once handcuffed and in the police cruiser, Earlywine told an officer she would give the Funky Rooster employee $20 and “demanded to speak with her,” according to the arrest report. 

Earlywine was arrested in front of the Funky Chicken store, 814 Duval St., which Bakala also owns. 

“What a coincidence,” he said. 

‘Only a couple of dollars’

After Earlywine bought merchandise at the Funky Rooster, the employee who rang up her sale noticed money was missing from the tip jar and confronted Earlywine and her daughter while they were still in the shop.

Earlywine turned red and said she didn’t steal anything, the employee told police. Then her daughter said, “it was only a couple of dollars,” the arrest report says. 

Gwen Filosa
Gwen Filosa is The Keys Weekly’s Digital Editor, and has covered Key West news, culture and assorted oddities since she moved to the island in 2011. She was previously a reporter for the Miami Herald and WLRN public radio. Before moving to the Keys, Gwen was in New Orleans for a decade, covering criminal courts for The Times-Picayune. In 2006, the paper’s staff won the Pulitzer Prizes for breaking news and the Public Service Medal for their coverage of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. She remains a devout Saints fan. She has a side hustle as a standup comedian, and has been a regular at Comedy Key West since 2017. She is also an acclaimed dogsitter, professional Bingo caller and a dedicated Wilco fan.