Grieving families should guard against burglars

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   It's difficult to believe that someone could be so heartless during a time of grief, but it happens. Thieves actually watch the obituary pages in local newspapers and case the homes of the deceased just waiting for an opportunity to make off with the recently departed's valuables.
   "That's about as sorry and as low down as you can get, but occasionally it does happen," Carter County Sheriff John Henson said.
   Or, thieves check out the names of survivors, "catch somebody with a family member at the funeral home, and they break into their house," he said. "It's a good opportunity for thieves to take advantage."
   Last Sunday, the son of an Elizabethton woman who had just passed away went to her home only to find that his mother's residence had been burglarized. A screen had been cut and entry had been gained through a window.
   Every room in the house had been ransacked. Drawers and boxes had been opened and scattered on the floor. Much of the woman's personal jewelry, tins filled with coins, and medication such as Loratab had been taken.
   Many local residents often call the sheriff's department or city police requesting that officers extra patrol the residence when there is a funeral.
   "It would be a good idea for the family to let a neighbor, the sheriff's department or the police department know so we can kind of keep an eye on it. A lot of times the funeral will be out of town. Then they most definitely need to do that," Sheriff Henson said.
   Another problem, he said, is thieves will watch the obituaries for cancer patients, "then go in and try to get their medication. People's got no respect anymore."
   Elizabethton Police Chief Roger Deal said he personally is a firm believer in alarm systems.
   "These things, unfortunately, happen to a lot of people. Crime has no economic barriers. It doesn't matter who you are or where you live. I strongly believe locks only keep an honest man honest. But alarm systems notify the proper authorities when there's nobody around to notify in the event of an emergency -- a burglary, a fire, whatever.
   "I remember growing up, the folks could load up and take the family to town and never lock a door. But those days are gone. You can't trust anybody. It's not always somebody from your neighborhood. Most of the time it's somebody from outside your neighborhood that's been casing or has been in your house before."
   These type crimes are usually premeditated, according to Chief Deal, who recommended the family contact a neighbor they can trust, "tell them what their plans are, when they're leaving, and when they're going to be back."
   Family members who must leave town to attend a funeral, especially if they're going to be gone for any extended period of time, should be sure to have someone pick up their mail and newspaper, Chief Deal said. "Give your house a lived-in look. Use timers on your lights."
   The police department gets lots of requests for extra patrol, the chief said, "and we do our best to do that. However, we have over 14,000 people to look after here. It's hard to say that we can do it and you not have a crime."