Thieves prey on the grief-stricken at Rose Hills Memorial Park & Mortuary
WHITTIER - Thefts of purses, laptops and other valuables from mourners' cars at Rose Hills Memorial Park & Mortuary isn't rare.
But the number of such crimes, mostly from unlocked vehicles, have jumped. Now deputies and cemetery officials are warning people not to leave valuables in their cars.
There have been 26 thefts from cars at Rose Hills so far this year compared to the 11 last year, according to Sgt. Richard Hernandez. The sheriff's Pico Rivera Station handles crimes committed on the 1,400-acre cemetery at 3888 Workman Mill Road in Whittier.
"They take advantage of mourners," he said. "I think these burglars and thieves have found a rich target."
Because of the increased thefts, deputies have conducted surveillance and patrolled the cemetery. The cemetery said it started passing out fliers to drivers who stop at the information booth. The flier warns people to lock their cars and not to leave valuables in the vehicles.
The same flier is posted at the park's entrances, said Richard Hardy who is the park's visitor services manager. He is in charge of Rose Hill's park patrol.
"We try to get people to lock their car. This is the LA Basin. Whatever happens outside, happens inside a cemetery," Hardy said.
"People tell us, `Who would steal at a cemetery?' Thieves. They have no conscience. We really
despise these types of activities on our families. It's disgusting."
He suspected the culprits would pick a car and very quietly steal the valuables inside. He was told by deputies the thieves start using the victims' credit cards within a half hour.
Out of all the thefts, Hardy recalled only one case where a victim saw a man carrying her purse get into a gray sport utility vehicle. She ran after the man.
"She beat on the window, yelling, `Stop! Stop!'," Hardy said.
The thief got away. But that's the only description of a suspect vehicle they have, Hardy said.
"The difficulty is we don't know who we are looking for," Hardy said.
He said he heard similar thefts are happening at other cemeteries.
Sheriff's Sgt. Mark Guerrero said there's been a consistent problem with thefts at Rose Hills and there's been surveillance conducted before this year.
The current bumper crop of thievery are almost all whodunits, authorities said.
"It could be anybody," Guerrero said.
So far, deputies arrested three people. Two of them were in possession of stolen property and drugs, Guerrero said.
Two couldn't be tied to the thefts but had their parole violated.
"You have two parolees with prior theft convictions driving through Rose Hills," Guerrero said. He said the men told deputies they were there to visit the graves of "homeboys."
A third man was caught July 13.
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Hernandez said deputies patrolling the cemetery arrested a parolee at the cemetery who allegedly had heroin, meth, a syringe, ammunition, a box of illegal fireworks, two envelopes with escrow documents addressed to others, an envelope with checks in other people's names, a new model iPhone, four iPods and a slim jim in his car.
Deputies are investigating whether Joseph Mayorga, 27, is involved with the thefts.
No charges have been filed yet against Mayorga related to the arrest. But he is being held at Men's Central Jail for parole violation.
"He was caught as he was driving. He said he was there to see a homeboy who had been shot and killed. He couldn't tell us what plot," Guerrero said.
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