Mr. Hamasalui, 70, wasn't hard to recognize — store staff spotted the man the previous morning taking a peek at the back room where the safe is kept, and also remembered him from security video of a burglary in November.
That video showed a man who reportedly looked like Mr. Hamasalui, in what looked like the same clothes he wore again on Feb. 26: a black baseball cap, black jacket and black pants.
Store manager Kathy Barron confronted the man on Feb. 26 as he tried to leave through the front door after darting into the back room again. He kept walking. She pursued on foot.
"He's not running; he's 70 years old," said Mr. Hoctor. "So she just followed him saying 'you need to stop, give us back that money!'"
The pair then proceeded on a low-speed chase around downtown Menlo Park. Ms. Barron finally grabbed the man by the arm and patted his jacket, hearing the tell-tale rustle of paper bags like the sort the store uses to stash proceeds from the day's sales.
Breaking free, Mr. Hamasalui continued his stroll down El Camino Real until finally encountering the police, called by a bystander, near Applewood Pizza.
"They asked permission to search, and all our stuff fell out of his jacket," Mr. Hoctor said. The paper bags contained about $3,500.
"Kathy is my hero," he added. "I wanted to hug her, then yell at her, but hugged her first. She said her adrenaline just took over because she was so angry that this was the second time."
Mr. Hamasalui walked into Village Stationers trailing a string of convictions as well as a dubious reputation. He's been convicted at least three times in San Mateo County between 1997 and 2007 for theft both grand and petty, according to the district attorney's office.
Menlo Park police spokeswoman Nicole Acker said investigators are now looking into possible cases in other jurisdictions.