Property Left Vacant By Death An Easy Target For Thieves

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- Julie Graham of Huntsville lost her father recently and inherited the responsibility of taking care of her dad's estate and belongings. Graham and her family have already been dealing with heartache but she had no idea she was in for more hurt.

"For the last 6 years of my dad's life he was battling the effects of a stroke and that was difficult for me to watch," recalls Graham, "and then the past 3 months have just been devastating dealing with the death; it was a bit unexpected and sudden."

If the loss of her father was not enough, Graham was blindsided about two weeks ago while in the process and preparing her father's home and clearing it out. She says hundreds of dollars worth of tools and property were stolen from her father's garage. Graham says the looting left her feeling like she had become a victim twice.

"That's exactly how I feel, it's been devastating. Since it's happened I've just felt literally sick about it."

Graham says she had a set schedule when she visited the home on the weekends to work, but even that regimented presence wasn't enough.

"I believe that someone may have been watching the house and may have had an idea what was going on there because we had been cleaning it out and renovating it," says Graham. "They actually used my dad's 10 foot, single-axle, flat-bead trailer to load up lots of garage items and tools such as: a vintage drill press, probably 5 or 6 feet tall, a large Craftsman tool chest full of tools and a stick welder."

Graham says those are just some of the larger items that were taken.

"They probably had the trailer loaded to the brim a they pulled off with the whole thing. These were garage items, tolls and machines, but they were my dad's treasures, so to someone they're just thinking they can make a quick buck off of them but these were special items to my dad."

"We've had complete houses loaded up on U-hauls and toted off--some people will even look at the obituaries and target homes like these."

Sergeant Jack Pugh, lead investigator for Huntsville Police Department's North Precinct says thieves targeting homes of the deceased is a scenario law enforcement is quite familiar with.

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"Family members may be waiting to finalize the estate and so they still have property left in the house with no one living there," says Pugh, "or when they go to clean it out, some of the family members may live out-of-town and when they come to get the property they may hire local people to help and they kinda see what the situation is and that no one is living there and then you may have someone return to finish getting the property."

Julie Graham says she thought  she was taking every precaution possible.

"I switched different light out, left the radio on, asked neighbors to put their car in the driveway but towards the end I let my guard down--I thought it was going to be okay and I let my guard down," admits Graham.

Sergeant Pugh says it may seem like common sense, but there are specific precautions you can take when dealing with a vacant property that can help prevent you from becoming a target.

"Make contact with the neighbors and let them know the situation as far as being aware of what cars are there, give them a cell number so if they se someone there they can call and let you know and check to se if they are authorized to be at the location."

For Julie Graham, this is unfortunately a cautionary tale that has made an example out of her.

"I'm just hoping the public will care enough to provide tips if they've seen anything."

If you have any information on the stolen property please contact Huntsville Police at 256-722-7100.

Here is a complete list of the missing items:

-          10 ft. Single Axle Trailer, black, manufactured by P & T Trailers

-          Craftsman tool chest (red) full of tools (listed in photo in gallery above)

-          Stick Welder

-          Vintage drill press (rare commercial-grade brand)

-          Extension ladder

-          Small older TV, possibly RCA brand

-          Leaf blower

-          Edger

-          Copper tubing coil, approx. 10-15 lbs.

-          2 remote control helicopters, unused in box, purchased from RC Hobbies in Huntsville

-          Various sizes of pipe cutters

-          Large torque wrenches

-          1,000 lb hoist

-          Porter Cable brand air compressor

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