Funeral Burglars Prey on Grieving Friends and Relatives

Posted by , , at 11:42 am

Some burglars pick your home at random because it’s an inviting target – especially if you are one of the 80% or so of US homes that don’t have a monitored alarm system. But other burglars target homes at very specific times, such as when they know you’ll be away for vacation – or even at a funeral. It’s hard to believe a burglar could be that despicable, but once a person commits to violating your sense of security while stealing your property, clearly any sense of propriety is already long gone. In this report from Columbus, Ohio it appears the timing and the target may have been random, but that doesn’t make it easier for the survivors to accept.

The remaining two roommates left the apartment for a few hours, just long enough to pay their last respects to Eddie J. Rhodes. It was time enough for thieves who might have viewed Rhodes’ death as a gain instead of a loss. While Olga Cora-Saulsberry and Jerome Freeman attended Rhodes’ funeral on Feb. 22, thieves broke into the East Side apartment the three friends had shared. They stole a laptop and a safe that contained a handgun, Rhodes’ watch, the title to Cora-Saulsberry’s car and sentimental items that had value only to her. “I was hysterical,” she said. “I was upset. I was angry because of what they had done.”

Background on Intrusions

Burglars prefer an unoccupied house, but with a drug addiction often driving their criminal behavior, they don’t much care why that home is empty. Sometimes, the residents are at work or on vacation. Sometimes, they are at church or in a university lecture hall. Every now and then, the victims are at a funeral, perhaps distracted at a time when leaving on a light and double-checking the locks seem like trivial concerns. Some bad guys go as far as seeking out grieving families.

Hard Core Funeral Burglars

In Washington State last spring, a group that became known as the “obituary burglars” looted houses they found through death notices. A website committed to debunking urban legends of all kinds, www.snopes.com, reports a number of true occasions when death notices became advertisements for thievery. The family of Columbus homicide victim Darlene Hart was similarly violated last summer. On the same July day that Logann Hart saw her mother buried, burglars backed a rental truck into her Truro Township driveway, broke into her home and worked hard to clean her out. “That’s low, to do something like that,” said Darlene Hart’s mother, Phyllis.

Just Coincidence, or Planned?

Cora-Saulsberry doesn’t know whether the thieves who looted her apartment knew where she and Freeman were going that day. Maybe the timing was coincidental. But it wasn’t a secret in the complex near Port Columbus that Rhodes, 47, had died of a heart attack in the apartment that week, she said. Columbus Police Lt. Robert Strausbaugh said burglars sometimes are closer than victims would care to think. Naive vacationers who post trip updates on Facebook, and kids who can’t resist bragging to schoolmates about their new Xbox 360, have become crime victims. “It’s not always the stranger that breaks into your house,” Strausbaugh said.

Standard Burglar Behavior

Using obituaries as a road map to burglary would require planning and intelligence; the everyday burglar rarely has those skills, said Sgt. Bill Duffer of the Franklin County sheriff’s office. “Here’s the typical way they do a burglary,” Duffer said. “They walk up and ring the doorbell a bunch of times.” If someone answers the door, the thieves come up with a tissue-thin story about a lost dog or the search for a buddy’s house. “If you don’t answer (the door), then they’re kicking it in.” Cora-Saulsberry said her back door had been kicked, although a kitchen window also had been smashed.

What You Can Do

Police say the best defense is to make a home as uninviting to burglars as possible. That might include getting an alarm, a dog and strong deadbolt locks — “The ones that go through the frame are always a good idea,” said Sgt. Christine Nemchev, a Columbus Police Division spokeswoman. Ask a friend to house-sit during a funeral, Nemchev advised. Knowing your neighbors can be invaluable. Cora-Saulsberry hopes that the contents of the stolen safe will turn up. Inside were documents she cherished, including her marriage license and the death certificate for her first husband. She said she had hoped to marry Rhodes one day. “Eddie loved it here because he felt safe,” she said.

Does this article strengthen the case for monitored home security as a way to protect your home and family from this type of random – or carefully planned – behavior? You bet it does. And the fact that some criminals actually target the bereaved simply reinforces the need for an alarm system – especially one with cellular monitoring, the only safe and reliable way to increase your peace of mind. We already know that a home protected by a monitored alarm system is only one third as likely to suffer an intrusion, so it just makes sense.

FrontPoint is on the case with systems that are safer, smarter, simpler, and more affordable. We even offer these Top 10 Home Security Tips, so you can see how you’re doing. As the leader in wireless home security and the #1 rated alarm company in the US, FrontPoint takes residential intrusion very seriously, whether it’s the usual random offense by an amateur burglar, or a targeted attack by the “professional” described above. Either way, you want the odds on your side.

Comments (4)

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  1. Alan

    Thanks for another reminder on this, Peter. It is important and easy to forget about with everything else going on in such circumstances.

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Thanks, Alan. Burglars who target the bereaved in this manner deserve a special place you-know-where…

  2. Alan

    Thanks for another reminder on this, Peter. It is important and easy to forget about with everything else going on in such circumstances.

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Thanks, Alan. Burglars who target the bereaved in this manner deserve a special place you-know-where…

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