Friday, June 20, 2008 — Members of a theft crew who stole more than $500,000 worth of brass used in cemetery ornaments and later scrapped it to purchase drugs, have been arrested by Cook County Sheriff’s Police, Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced today.
David Gurneau, 22, of 1004 Argyle, Bensenville, and Alexander Soliveras, 27, of 4851 W. Roscoe, Chicago, were each charged with one count of theft over $10,000 and one count of theft over $300. Charges have also been lodged via arrest warrant against a third man, Eric Huffman, 26, Glenview, for one count of theft over $300. Huffman is currently incarcerated in the Illinois Department of Corrections on another matter and will formally face charges in this case upon completion of his sentence in August.
According to police, the men knew each other because they all allegedly purchased heroin in the same West Side neighborhood in Chicago.
The arrests culminate a six-month investigation titled “Operation Red Brass.” The operation was so named because the offenders targeted Chicago-area cemeteries and would steal cemetery ornaments made of red brass including mausoleum vases, World War II plaques, religious statues and headstones. The items are all made of “Red Brass #3,” also known as “cemetery brass.” The material is long lasting, durable and is able to withstand the elements without tarnishing much, thus making it an attractive option for use at cemeteries, but an expensive one in cost.
“These arrests put an end to heartbreaking vandalism incidents that have left families across Cook County feeling shattered and violated because their loved ones were not allowed to rest in peace,” Sheriff Dart said.
To date, Sheriff’s Police detectives have linked the crew to more than 210 cases of red brass thefts at nine cemeteries throughout suburban Cook County and Chicago. The thefts are believed to have occurred between September, 2007, and February, 2008. In one case at Evergreen Cemetery in Evergreen Park, nearly 1,100 brass vases were stolen and sold for scrap. Each 10-inch high vase is valued at approximately $400 and the offenders would receive between $10 and $12 per vase when they were brought to scrap yards and sold.
Sheriff’s Police said the men would work alone or together both during the day when cemeteries were open and also enter some at night to steal the items. Offenders routinely kicked vases attached to headstones or mausoleum walls to dislodge the items, or pry the headstones, plaques and statues from their mountings. Offenders would then take the materials to area recyclers where they would receive $2-$3 per pound for the brass. The investigation into the recycling centers is open and continuing.
The cemeteries targeted by the burglary crew include Resurrection Cemetery in Justice, Evergreen Cemetery in Evergreen Park, West Lawn Cemetery in Norwood Park Township, Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park, St. Joseph’s and Elmwood cemeteries in River Grove, Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie and Irving Park and Mt. Olive cemeteries in Chicago. Sheriff Dart asked that anyone visiting a cemetery and found vandalism to the graves of a loved one to contact the cemetery office. The office will, in turn, contact local police who will funnel the reports to Sheriff’s Police.
Additionally, with the start of the summer cemetery visiting season, Sheriff Dart reminded cemetery patrons to follow some simple safety rules when visiting the graves of loved ones.
Visitors are reminded to travel with someone to the cemetery; be aware of your surroundings before exiting your vehicle; lock purses and other valuables in the trunk and out of sight; roll up your car windows, lock the doors and take your keys with you; and carry your cell phone to the grave site and dial 911 in an emergency.
In previous years, there have been instances in Cook County cemeteries in which criminals have taken advantage of the distraction of grave visitation to unlawfully enter parked and unlocked vehicles in cemeteries, often taking visible items including purses, cell phones and money. In other cases, offenders have broken windows when doors were locked to gain entry to vehicles and access to valuables.
Sheriff Dart thanked the Cook County State’s Attorney Office as well as the police departments in Chicago, Evergreen Park, Forest Park, Justice, River Grove and Skokie for their valuable assistance in this investigation.