A fugitive suspected of using newspaper obituaries to burglarize 30 homes in Texas was picked up here by detectives Wednesday after they learned he was in the area visiting his son.
John A. Desherlia, 59, and members of his family are suspects in what the media in Texas have dubbed the "funeral home burglaries."
Desherlia is being held in Niagara County Jail without bail and is awaiting an extradition hearing in Niagara County Court.
North Tonawanda police staked out a house Wednesday on Ironton Street after receiving a tip from the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office in Texas.
"They told us they had a warrant for one alleged burglary, but they believe he may be involved in as many as 30 more," said Capt. William Hall, North Tonawanda's chief of detectives. "He was looking at obituaries and then would commit burglaries."
Desherlia was seen leaving the house with his son just before 2 p.m. Police stopped them at East Mead Street and Robinson Road. Hall said the son is not known to police and has not been charged.
Desherlia had been on the run since Sept. 15 when his wife, Pamela Desherlia, 40, was charged with burglary in connection with the house thefts and jailed.
Police in Texas said they broke the case when Pamela Desherlia used a stolen credit card and she and her husband were seen on video surveillance in Jefferson County.
Her brother also is suspected of being involved in the thefts but has not been charged because he was not seen on the video.
Detective Chad Hogan of the Orange County Sheriff's Office in Texas said police had first gone to Mississippi to search for John Desherlia, who has a son living there. But he had money wired to him there and headed to New York.
"We had just missed him but got a second tip," which led them to North Tonawanda, Hogan said. "It's just a tragedy that they would do this. They would prey on people. It's amazing. We found newspapers in their trailer with dates circled and underlined. We knew what they were doing."
He said police have recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in stolen items, including guns. Much of the stolen property has already been sold.
Hogan said Desherlia, his wife and her brother are suspected of at least 12 thefts in three Texas counties in the past six to eight months. More charges are expected.
"More people are coming forward as this becomes a more publicized pattern," Hogan said.