By Courtney Astolfi
With some help from state officials and their fancy electronic gadgetry, Sandusky police nabbed a suspect in a long-running theft scheme targeting grave ornaments and tombstone markers at Oakland Cemetery and other burial plots.
Jeffrey Huey, 23, of the 3200 block of County Road 213 in Clyde, was charged with felonious theft, felonious breaking and entering and felonious vandalism.
He was arrested Friday.
Over the past month, Sandusky police had been receiving several complaints about flower pots, urns, benches and trees missing from Oakland Cemetery on Milan Road. Officers were stumped by the numerous disappearances, and they assumed someone was scrapping the metal pieces for cash.
They soon launched an investigation, opting to install surveillance cameras in hopes of catching the thief in action.
On May 31, detectives placed a potted palm tree in the same spot where two other trees had disappeared. They outfitted the palm tree with an electronic monitoring device, police said, and they also fixed their cameras on the bait tree.
And then they waited.
Footage from the surveillance cameras show Huey arriving at Oakland Cemetery at 2 p.m. Friday. The footage shows Huey wrapping a sheet around the bait tree, and then loading it into his white Ford Explorer before leaving the site. Sandusky and Perkins police then followed Huey down Milan Road, stopping him just south of the Ohio 2 overpass, palm tree in tow.
Huey told officers he picked up the plant from a family gravesite on behalf of a friend. His story unravelled quickly however, when he was unable provide officers with the friend’s name, a report said.
Huey soon admitted to stealing the palm tree, as well as taking three cement pots from the same cemetery, police said. He also said he was storing the items at his Clyde home.
Sandusky County deputies and Clyde police met Sandusky detectives at Huey’s home, where to their great surprise, they found dozens of grave ornaments lining his driveway.
“As soon as we pulled in the driveway, our jaws dropped at the amount of stuff he had on the side of the driveway,” Sandusky police Detective Gary Wichman said. The items are likely worth thousands of dollars, Wichman said, although it’s difficult to put a price on property of that sort.
An Oakland Cemetery groundskeeper identified the items that were taken from Sandusky, and deputies are sorting through the remainder of the collection.
Huey’s parents referred to their son as a “scrapper,” but the range of items stolen indicate some other purpose. Wichman theorized Huey, who referred to himself as an artisan, was re-working the ornaments for resale.
Police and deputies have since recovered property stolen from cemeteries across northern Ohio and southern Michigan. Sandusky County deputies are conducting their own investigation into Huey, who will likely face additional charges through their department.
In the meantime, detectives are urging family and friends to identify and claim any items stolen from a loved one’s gravesite. They have also asked for anyone that may have purchased an item from Huey to come forward.
Huey remains in the Erie County jail on $20,000 bond.