Nearly $100,000 in rings were stolen from jewelry store Artisan's Alcove in Cape May yesterday afternoon in an elaborate caper, the store's manager said.

Manager Pat Raspa was in the store alone yesterday afternoon when an older couple she described as "well-dressed, seemingly nice" entered the store to browse. A few minutes later, two males and a female entered the store and asked to see some jewelry. The couple told Raspa she could assist the new customers.

After about 15 minutes, Raspa said, the couple told her they were leaving to get lunch and would be back later. A few minutes after that, the second group left as well, allegedly to get cash. 

"Out the door they went, leaving me," Raspa said. "And as I was going across the store, I noticed immediately the rings were missing."

In total, the thieves stole 15 diamond engagement rings and 15 men's rings from two separate cases, Raspa said.  

After the theft, Raspa and the store owner reviewed surveillance footage that Raspa said caught the thieves in the act. According to her, the man quietly leaned over the counter and slid open the back of the cases to gain access to the rings. At one point, she said, his feet were off the floor. Meanwhile, the other three maneuvered to block her view. 

Raspa said the jewelry is insured, but the embarrassment of the situation is painful.

"I was really sick," she said. "I was so upset. I couldn't believe I was so stupid to allow that to happen." 

Raspa said this was the first time the store has been robbed. 

Artisan's Alcove owner William Scott said the store has a policy in place of having two employees are present at all times, but an employee recently quit, leaving the store short-staffed. He said he left the store yesterday to watch his daughter play softball at Lower Cape May Regional High School. 

"It's just horrific that people go out of their way to become professional thieves, as opposed to doing something that's beneficial to society," he said. "And I, as a dad and small business owner, can't go watch my daughter play softball."

Raspa said the police and investigators from the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office were at the store until 10:30 last night.

Cape May County Prosecutor Bob Taylor, whose office is jointly investigating with the Cape May City Police Department, said the suspects are three black males and two black females. He said this theft may be related to others under investigation by the FBI, and the suspects may be part of a multi-state theft ring.