Metro-East News

Burglars hit homes as families grieve at funeral services

Burglars have been striking the homes of deceased people and their family members during funeral services, according to police and funeral directors in the metro-east.

The rash of break-ins prompted a meeting Wednesday morning of investigators from police departments throughout the region.

One funeral director, Dale Kurrus of Kurrus Funeral Home in Belleville, said two families fell victim to burglaries on the same day during separate visitations last week — one in the morning and one in the evening — 30 miles apart in Belleville and Albers. The funeral home organized services for both families.

“It’s sad people have to stoop that low when the family is at their lowest point to take advantage of them,” Kurrus said. “It’s sickening.”

Earlier this month, the family of Thornton Opperman came home from the man’s visitation to find his Fairview Heights house trashed and his Purple Heart missing.

Belleville Police Chief Bill Clay said at least one burglar appears to be monitoring obituaries and targeting houses while families are attending funeral and visitation services. Clay on Wednesday said his department was working with several area departments experiencing similar cases.

Illinois State Police officials have warned metro-east funeral homes about the burglaries, according to the Top of the Hill Community Association, which is a west Belleville neighborhood group.

“It’s unclear whether they’ve targeted family of the deceased,” the association’s Facebook post stated. “If you know of a neighbor’s passing, consider offering help house-sitting.”

Fairview Heights Officer Tim Mueller said his department has seen two such reports — one on May 1, and then the Opperman case on May 18.

On Wednesday morning, investigators were scheduled to hold a meeting to address the rash of burglaries, Mueller said.

Kurrus said any family member’s home could be burglarized, not just the deceased person’s home.

“It could be any one of the family members, brothers, sisters,” Kurrus said.

Burglaries based on funeral and visitation services are nothing new, Kurrus added. He said a similar occurrence happened about eight months ago. Often the burglar is someone who knows the family or a neighbor, Kurrus said.

“They know how to get in. They know where things are at,” Kurrus said. “It’s happened a number of times in the past, but it slowed down. I don’t know if it’s picking up again or if by bringing this incident up it is going to cause it to increase.”

But Kurrus said he is still spreading the word by warning families to have somebody watch their homes during visitation hours or funerals.

Mueller suggested the same, adding that residents are welcome to call the police department for extra help.