A Wisconsin deputy sheriff is accused of breaking into and burglarizing the homes of people whom she knew would be at funeral services after she scoured local obituaries.
Jefferson County Deputy Sheriff Janelle Gericke allegedly carried out her scheme from February 2018 through June 2019, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday by the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
"In most instances, this occurred while the homeowners were attending the funeral of a family member. In such instances, the deceased person's online obituary listed the homeowners as surviving relatives along with the date and time of funeral services," the complaint said.
Gericke, 29, who was fired from the sheriff's department in July, is accused of stealing a checkbook from a home while an 82-year-old man and his family were at his girlfriend's funeral.
If Gericke was caught, she would usually make up a story about trying to find an address to complete a Facebook Marketplace transaction.
Once, when a fellow deputy asked her what she was doing at a recently-deceased man's house during his funeral, she said she was there to buy a baby swing from Facebook Marketplace, but had gotten the address mixed up. The deputy contacted the owner of the house Gericke said she had meant to go to, but that person said they did not have a baby swing for sale.
In another case, she told a family returning from a funeral that she was there to clean the home.
Her fellow deputies also began recognizing Gericke, her car and dog from victims' surveillance footage, the criminal complaint said.
Another colleague, a special agent, had sent an email to coworkers to say she would be out-of-state for two days. While monitoring her home through surveillance footage on her phone, the special agent saw a woman in her yard, appearing to look for a spare key. The woman was identified as Gericke, who was pregnant at the time.
In June, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department sent deputies to monitor the homes of the family members of a recently deceased person whose obituary was published.
Gericke showed up to two of the family members' homes, with her baby in tow, the complaint said. She entered one, leaving her infant in the car.
The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office turned the investigation of Gericke over to the Wisconsin Department of Justice to maintain neutrality, according to a statement from the office.
Sheriff Paul Milbrath apologized in the statement for "the embarrassment and mistrust that this individual may have caused."
"Milbrath wants to reassure the public that the values, integrity and standards that the Sheriff’s Office has always represented will continue to be upheld and are as essential to the operations of the Sheriff’s Office today as they have always been," the statement said. "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."
If convicted, Gericke could face up to 12 and a half years in prison and fines of up to $25,000.