Police say thieves in Salt Lake Valley may be targeting cars parked outside funerals

Posted at 9:46 PM, May 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-13 23:49:54-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A slew of car break-ins across the Salt Lake Valley in the past couple weeks could be targeting cars parked in parking lots outside funeral locations.

The cases range from Salt Lake City, to Cottonwood Heights, to West Jordan.

“My stomach sank and just, I knew I'd been had,” Lorrie Belcher said.

She said while attending her late cousin’s funeral in West Jordan a couple of weeks ago, she left to find her window smashed out, and her purse—which she’d carefully hidden—gone.

Abigail Parkes got the same unpleasant surprise when she left her late uncle’s viewing in Salt Lake City nearly two weeks ago.

“I was already super emotional,” she said. “When I came out it was just like, ‘Are you serious?! This happened right here, right now?!’”

Cottonwood Heights Police said some burglars target that group of people, who are vulnerable and in a tough spot in their lives.

“It definitely takes a different type of criminal to really target somebody at their lowest point,” Sergeant Ryan Shostead said.

He said these criminals might look up postings for funerals online or in the paper, so they know when and where to hit.

Because the people mourning inside likely won’t come out for at least an hour or more, their cars become easy targets while sitting unattended in the parking lot, he said.

In Belcher’s case, the criminals had a plan.

“The people were apparently passing out fliers, and putting [them] under the windshield wipers,” she said.

The fliers, she said, were fake, a decoy to get close to the cars and peer inside without looking too suspicious.

Belcher said they smashed her window and the window on another car. Her purse disappeared, along with everything in it.

In Parkes’ case, the thieves immediately went on a shopping spree with her wallet.

“They had already been swiping the card around the Cottonwood Heights area,” she said.

Cottonwood Heights Police are investigating a similar case. A woman attending a funeral last week came out to find her purse stolen. The cards got charged at stores around town, police said.

In this case, they tracked down surveillance photos and hope to catch the woman.

Parkes said police had closed her case, but after the recent incident in Cottonwood Heights, she said detectives are now looking up surveillance from the stores the burglars hit up with her card.

Belcher said West Jordan Police are actively following her case as well, and told her they’re investigating incidents with those same phony fliers at other funerals and in shopping center parking lots.

Sgt. Shostead said they often patrol around the parking lots of funerals to keep thieves away.

For Belcher and Parkes, they just hope to spread awareness, so mourners will think twice and take their valuables inside with them or leave them secured at home.