Former Sheriff’s Deputy Burglarized Homes During Funerals, Police Say
If convicted, Janelle Gericke could face more than 12 years behind bars.
A former Wisconsin deputy sheriff was charged Tuesday with one count of felony burglary for allegedly targeting a grieving family while they attended a funeral. Police reportedly suspect her of committing a series of similar crimes dating back to at least 2018.
According to a criminal complaint obtained by Milwaukee's WITI-TV, Janelle Gericke, 29, is suspected of burglarizing or attempting to burglarize several residences, "while the homeowners were attending the funeral of a family member.”
“In such instances,” the complaint continued, “the deceased person's online obituary listed the homeowners as surviving relatives along with the date and time of funeral services.”
In February 2018, a Watertown resident reported a checkbook disappeared from their residence while they were attending a funeral. Video from a doorbell camera allegedly shows Gericke at the property, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
According to the publication, Gericke left a note which read, in part: “I was here to pick up the stuff through Facebook. I came in … and the items weren’t by the door. So I didn’t leave my money. I tried Facebook messaging but you haven’t responded.”
Authorities later lifted Gericke’s fingerprint from the note, the complaint alleges.
Gericke reportedly began working as a corrections officer at the Jefferson County Jail in 2016. Suspicions first arose in January when a colleague allegedly spotted Gericke at the residence of deceased firefighter Chris Truman during his funeral. Truman reportedly died on New Year’s Eve after a vehicle struck him while he was attempting to help a stranded motorist.
When confronted, Gericke allegedly said she went to Truman's house "to complete a transaction arising from Facebook," the complaint alleges.
However, cops say the name and address she provided did not match Truman’s residence. Gericke later allegedly texted the deputy who reported seeing her. She told the deputy it was a misunderstanding, and she ultimately found the Facebook Marketplace item at a neighbor of Truman's, WITI-TV reported. The neighbor disputes Gericke’s story, police said.
In February, a family reportedly told police they found Gericke standing in their kitchen when they returned home from a funeral. She allegedly told them she was there for a cleaning job she saw on Facebook, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. She is facing charges in connection with that incident, police said.
Gericke is also suspected of burglarizing the home of a colleague who was out of town for several days in April. The coworker confronted her after spotting her on surveillance video, prosecutors claim.
In June, authorities investigating the cases set up surveillance at the homes of relatives attending funerals published in local obituaries. Officers allegedly witnessed Gericke attempt to enter two separate residences.
Gericke's supervisors terminated her employment in July. Police said she is suspected of involvement in the burglary and or attempted burglary of seven homes in and around Jefferson County. Four of the cases involve residents who were away from home and attending funerals, according to police.
In the wake of Gericke's arrest, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office issued a statement apologizing for any "embarrassment and mistrust" her alleged misdeeds caused.
"The sheriff's office refuses to let events like this define itself and call into question the goodness of people who work so hard every day to serve this community with honor,” the statement reads.
It's unclear why authorities waited to file charges in the case and or whether additional charges are forthcoming. If convicted as charged, Gericke could face a $25,000 fine and more than 12 years behind bars. She is due in court on December 30.
Read more: New York Post, Newsweek