After spending a short period of time at her daughter Jayme's grave recently at Mesa City Cemetery, Jacquelyn Vaughn returned to her car and realized someone had pilfered her purse.
"It was her birthday," Vaughn said. "It was about 1 p.m., 110 degrees and there was hardly anyone there. I'm usually very cautious. I felt safe enough that I left my purse in the car and the car unlocked."
Vaughn said she and her daughter Julia saw a pickup truck pull up near their car about five minutes after they walked to the grave site on June 24. They thought nothing of it and continued putting items by Jayme's grave. About four minutes later, they returned to their car and the other vehicle was gone.
So was the purse with Vaughn's wallet, $75 in cash, checkbook, credit cards and other forms of identification.
Besides Vaughn's account, police reports show women saying their purses were stolen on April 20, April 22 and May 1. All of the vehicles were unlocked.
Rick Fifield, general manager of Mesa City Cemetery, said thieves are targeting unlocked cars or those with open windows parked for funeral services and grave site visits. He said there hadn't been reports of such thefts in the previous two years.
"Unfortunately, people have to resort to this. It's just sick," Fifield said. "They walk by a car, see a purse and swipe it. It's hard for us to watch. We try to keep an eye on things, but you can't just walk up to someone and ask what they're doing in a cemetery. They might get offended and say they're just visiting. You can't be sure who's there legitimately or to try to steal a purse."
A police report for the April 20 incident shows that a pickup truck pulled up next to a woman's vehicle as she went to visit a grave. She said a man got out of the driver's side of the truck with a floral bouquet in hand. He said, "Isn't it a beautiful day?" The victim said a passenger in the man's vehicle said, "Shane, it's way over on the other side."
The victim said the men got back in the vehicle and left. She noticed her purse was gone when she returned to her vehicle after the visit.
By the time the woman reported the theft to her credit card companies, thieves used her cards for nearly $2,000.
Fifield said the cemetery has no security and doesn't plan to add any.
Steve Berry, a Mesa police spokesman, said because the problem is recurring recently, the department has increased patrolling the cemetery and cleared out a nearby transient camp, although police aren't sure if transients had anything to do with the thefts.
"Always lock, lock, lock your car," Vaughn added. "Don't leave things. Ever."
An employee at Green Acres Mortuary & Cemetery in Scottsdale said while there have been about six purse thefts from vehicles parked there the past two years, none of them was recent.
Rene Corbelli, manager of Paradise Memorial Gardens in Scottsdale, said the cemetery has not had any recent incidents. "When I meet with families, I tell them you may feel comfortable in a cemetery, but you should lock your doors and windows even here."