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Glenna Linder, dead at 92, made her mark as an undercover mall cop for Carson’s

Glenna "Big Red" Linder was a longtime undercover detective at the Carson's in North Riverside.

Glenna "Big Red" Linder was a longtime undercover detective at the Carson's in North Riverside. | Provided photo

When Bill Linder was working his way through college as a security officer at the North Riverside Park Mall, his office would sometimes get reports there was a woman being mugged in the parking lot.

“It turned out to be my mom, fighting a shoplifter,” he said.

Glenna Linder worked for 34 years for the Carson Pirie Scott in North Riverside, most of that time as an undercover store detective. And she was good at it.

The redhead’s nickname was “Big Red.” Her weapons? A walkie-talkie, a set of handcuffs and a finely honed knack for noticing shoppers who emerged from dressing rooms carrying fewer clothes than they had when they went in. The rest, she often found, might be tucked under a coat or in a bag or purse. Mrs. Linder blended in by dressing in slacks and a T-shirt and toting shopping bags.

“She was undercover, dressed up like a typical suburban mom,” Bill Linder said. One time, “She actually busted a major shoplifting ring. When they went to the house, they found boxes stacked up to the ceilings.”

“She was so undercover, nobody would ever think she looked like a security guard,” said Cherisse Marcheschi, a former co-worker.

Marcheschi, who managed the fine jewelry department, said of Mrs. Linder: “She always kept an eye on me to make sure I was safe. I really looked up to her, being a woman who excelled at her job.”

Mrs. Linder was remarkably effective, and she was respected, said North Riverside police Cmdr. Dion Bobo. Even though she was only about 5-feet-5 and 135 pounds, “She had courage,” Bobo said. “If the bad guy was out there shoplifting, she had no issue approaching them and saying, ‘You need to come back to the security office.’ And she got compliance. It was almost like your grandmother was scolding you.”

She was one of the first people hired when Carson’s opened in the west suburban mall in 1975.

Before that, she held down desk jobs. But after going back to school to study criminal law at Triton College, she felt “a spirit of adventure” and wanted something more, according to her other son, Curtis. “She wasn’t going to study accounting or bookkeeping.”

A lifelong resident of Riverside, Mrs. Linder died Jan. 10 at Caledonia Senior Living in North Riverside after a stroke, her family said. She was 92.

She was Glenna McKillip growing up on Shenstone Road and went to Central grade school and Riverside Brookfield High School. After attending Blackburn College in downstate Carlinville, she studied at a Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School and for a time worked for Western Electric in Cicero.

Mrs. Linder met her future husband at a party. She used to joke that she fell for mechanical engineer William Linder, an erudite native of Minneapolis, “because he could read the copyrights in movies.” Beside deciphering those Roman numerals, he also could speak Latin, said their son Bill.

They got married in 1957 and were together until his death in 2008.

When her boys were growing up and sweating through summers, Bill Linder said his mother started thinking, “This place could use a swim club.” So she helped organize architects, designers and engineers to build the Riverside Swim Club, he said.

Her daughter-in-law Nancy Linder said that when her sons got to high school, Mrs. Linder enrolled at Triton to study criminal law. She’d hoped to become a U.S. marshal but “decided against it,” Bill Linder said, “because Carson’s was hiring.”

She worked nights mostly. “She had to be the last out. She had to set the alarms,” Curtis Linder said.

Mrs. Linder worked until about 82. Toward the end of her career, when it would have been tough to spend long shifts walking around to do surveillance, she switched to a job copying keys, Bill Linder said.

The Linders took trips to Asia, Australia, Europe, New Zealand and South America. In 1989, they went on safari to Tanzania, where Mrs. Linder photographed Curtis with a Chicago-area woman he met at a lodge at Lake Manyara. Two years later, when Nancy wrote an article for a legal publication, Curtis recognized the accompanying picture as the woman he met in Africa. He called. They got lunch. And 27 years ago, they were married.

An autograph collector in her younger days, Mrs. Linder would hang around Union Station back when the jet set was the train set, hoping to meet celebrities crossing the country by rail and disembarking in Chicago for publicity photos.

She enjoyed tennis at the Riverside Swim Club; playing bridge and the stock market and eating out at Riverside’s Chew Chew restaurant. Bill Linder said she also liked the music of bandleader Xavier Cugat. She was a member of the Frederick Law Olmsted Society, which works to preserve the legacy of Riverside’s famed landscape architect.

Services have been held.