A Wisconsin sheriff’s deputy allegedly used obituaries to burglarize several people’s homes while they attended loved ones’ funerals.
Janelle Gericke, 29, is accused of breaking into at least half a dozen people’s homes, some of whom were attending funeral services and burying family members when the burglaries occurred, police said.
The string of burglaries and attempted break-ins allegedly took place between February 2018 and June 2019.
“In such instances, the deceased person’s online obituary listed the homeowners as surviving relatives along with the date and time of funeral services,” according to a criminal complaint obtained by Oxygen.com.
Gericke was sometimes caught in the act by homeowners but "would explain that she was there to complete a transaction arising from Facebook,” the criminal complaint stated.
Gericke’s first alleged victim was an 82-year-old man whose long-term girlfriend had recently died. After returning home from his partner’s funeral, the elderly man found a cryptic — and confusing — note stuck to his front door, law enforcement said.
“I was here to pick up the stuff through Facebook,” the anonymous author wrote. “I came into the house and the items weren’t by the door. So didn’t leave my money. I tried Facebook messaging you but you haven’t responded.”
Surveillance footage showed a Chevrolet Cobalt sedan pull into the driveway. A woman, later identified by police as Gericke, emerged from the car wearing a “dark winter parka, dark yoga pants, and dark Ugg style boots,” the criminal complaint stated. She rang the doorbell, and when no one answered, tried pulling the door handle, which didn’t open. Investigators said Gericke then pulled something out of her jacket pocket and used the item to open the door.
The man said a bedroom cabinet had apparently been rifled through and that a checkbook was missing. The account associated with the checkbook, however, had been closed, a representative with power of attorney told police. The man’s family said he doesn’t own a computer or cell phone, and wasn’t a Facebook user.
Investigators took fingerprints from the note left on the man’s door, which were matched to Gericke using Department of Transportation records, authorities said.
Another woman, whose son had died, returned home from his funeral in February to find Gericke in her home. Gericke told the grieving woman she was a cleaner and had been hired on Facebook to tidy the family’s home. She also allegedly admitted to being a sheriff’s deputy before leaving the woman’s home. When the family asked her to go, she complied, police said.
Two family members later identified Gericke during a police photo lineup.
In another case, Gericke allegedly targeted the home of a man who was already dead.
When a different sheriff’s deputy drove by the deceased man’s home in January, he saw Gericke and stopped and questioned her. The 29-year-old, who was supposedly recently pregnant, told the other deputy she was there to buy baby items from a Facebook Marketplace seller. She later texted the deputy explaining she had mistakenly gone to the wrong address.
Gericke supposedly didn’t stop there either. She also allegedly tried to break into the home of a fellow sheriff’s deputy, too, who was out of town for a couple of days.
Suspicious of Gericke, law enforcement then baited her using an online obituary for a man who died earlier this spring. Special agents, who set up surveillance at the homes of the man’s relatives’, allegedly caught Gericke red-handed breaking into the home of the dead man’s parents. The former sheriff’s deputy later drove to the home of the deceased man’s brother, but didn’t go inside, police said.
Gericke was hired by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in 2016. She worked as a deputy in the county jail. She was fired in July.
“The Sheriff’s Office refuses to let events like this define itself and call into question the goodness of the people who work so hard every day to serve this community with honor and pride,” police said in a statement.
“Jefferson County Sheriff Paul Milbrath and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office apologize to the people that they serve for the embarrassment and mistrust that this individual may have caused.”
A spokesperson for the sheriff’s department declined to comment on Tuesday.
Gericke’s first court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 30.
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