Police: Thieves checking obituaries to find homes to burglarize

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Albuquerque police believe thieves around the city could be sinking to a new low by checking obituaries in the paper to see which houses are easy targets.

Holly Spellman is still grieving the loss of her mother who passed away two weeks ago. Spellman said her mother, Elizabeth Spellman, 91, was an art collector and a patron of the arts. She had a particular fondness for paintings.

Now every wall in her home is bare.

Spellman arrived at her mom’s home this week in the Heights to find it had been picked apart, and police don’t think she’s alone.

“They put her name in the obituary and we believe that someone is checking obituaries and robbing houses,” Officer Simon Drobik said. “For the most part the offender knows no one will be at the house, especially the elderly.”

Now Spellman’s left clearing out and cleaning up family photos and letters scattered across the garage floor. She said her mom lived in the same home for nearly 30 years and never had anything like this happen.

For Spellman, it’s three Carl Von Hassler paintings that her mom and dad bought from the artist himself that mean the most.

“It was the last thing of my father and mother together,” she said. “They were in Old Town one afternoon, at a restaurant bar, and Von Hassler came in and they knew who he was because my dad was from Albuquerque.”

Her parents purchased the three paintings for $25.

“It’s not about the monetary value, it’s about the memories, and this is such a vacant wall now,” Spellman said.

Spellman said the three paintings are in black and white. Each have Von Hassler’s signature.

Police believe the thieves came back more than once and each night took away a piece of the Spellmans’ lives.

“I’m not the first person to be broken into after someone’s loved one dies, and I’m not going to be the last one, but you have to take in your life and see what is precious to you,” she said.

Spellman said the thieves made off with 14 paintings. They also took her mom’s wedding dress that was tucked away in the garage.

Police took fingerprints from the home. No word yet if police got a hit on them.

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