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Burglary victims hire private investigators
Charon Gooding’s wedding ring is the only piece of jewelry she has left after her home was burglarized while she was out of town last month.
The 73-year-old Mercer Island resident was widowed 20 years ago, but still wears her diamond wedding ring.
Gooding was visiting her daughter in Los Angeles when the burglary occurred, sometime between April 8 and April 22. Gooding has lived in her waterfront home below East Mercer Way, in the 5400 block of 96th Avenue S.E., for 27 years. The home is situated in a wooded area.
Several other houses off of East Mercer Way were burglarized during the same timeframe, April 12-16. Island police have made an arrest in those incidents.
“My mom is devastated,” Chandra McNicholas, Gooding’s only daughter, wrote to the Reporter. “She lost three generations of our family’s heirlooms and, of course, other more monetarily valuable jewelry. She’s got a great attitude, but she is a widow and lives alone and, aside from her family, her jewelry was her most cherished possession.”
The pieces carried sentimental value, McNicholas said. Many were gifts from her mother’s late husband, James.
Gooding and her husband were married for 32 years. They were both born in Canada, and met at a church in Seattle.
“My dad went to church because he was looking for a wife,” McNicholas said. The couple married at the Seattle Tennis Club in 1961. Years later they settled on Mercer Island, on 96th Avenue S.E., where they shared seven years together before James Gooding’s untimely death.
James Gooding was working as a lawyer in Kent when one of his tenants walked into his office and shot him three days after Christmas, in 1993. The tenant, 33-year-old Timothy Ledford, then immediately shot himself. Gooding had recently served an eviction notice on Ledford and his girlfriend, who were renting the house across the street from the law office. The couple had stopped paying their rent.
Gooding’s son, Jim, had just started practicing law in his father’s office. That particular day, however, he was absent.
Several pieces of Gooding’s jewelry were purchased abroad, in Italy, Australia, Greece and the U.K. Her collection, worth an estimated $142,844, comprised at least 58 pieces bought locally and in other states and countries.
Most of the jewelry was appraised, but it was never insured.
While Mercer Island police continue to investigate the burglary, McNicholas hired two private investigators. The first visited local pawn shops. The second, Denise Scaffidi, canvassed the neighborhoods where the series of mid-April burglaries took place.
“The purpose of this canvas was to ascertain whether other neighbors had received unexplained or unusual visits from strangers,” Scaffidi wrote in a report of her investigation. “My assumption was that in order for the burglars to know which houses were empty and vulnerable, they had to have information from a scout.”
Scaffidi has a background in criminal defense. She was the lead defense investigator in the Green River and Christopher Monfort cases.
“The neighbors she (Scaffidi) spoke with had never been contacted by the police, and no one has been asked to help with a police sketch of the suspects,” McNicholas said.
Four sightings of a white utility van were reported to Scaffidi. The van was seen parked outside of a home in the 9900 block of S.E. 40th Street one week before it was burglarized. A neighbor saw the van again after encountering a suspicious solicitor. On the same day of the burglary, another neighbor saw a white van parked at the bottom of the lane, and an older, disheveled Caucasian man approached her and her daughter. Another resident, in the 4200 block of East Mercer Way, recalled seeing a white van park in her neighbors’ driveway on the day they were burglarized in December of 2012. In all incidents, the van did not have windows or any writing on it.
Scaffidi documented numerous reports of suspicious visitors. One resident who owns a restaurant on Mercer Island told Scaffidi that he answered the door to a young man supposedly selling magazines but wanting to come inside to use a bathroom, and he “felt that the young man had some unlawful purpose for being at his home,” according to the report.
MIPD Commander Leslie Burns concurred that there has been a lot of recent activity involving solicitors.
“Over the past six to eight weeks, we have had a landslide of calls regarding solicitors on the Island,” she said. “We are well aware of the relationship between those who knock on doors, to see if anyone is home, to residential burglaries.”
Detective Pete Erickson of MIPD said that there are different criminal “crews” working the Island at any given time.
“We investigate these burglaries; we do it all the time,” he said. “It helps us if people call us when they see something suspicious when it happens. That is when it is most helpful.”
According to police, there have been over 30 residential burglaries reported on the Island since the first of the year.
“One thing I know for sure; had my mom known about all of these crimes, she would have locked her jewelry away and probably taken other precautions,” McNicholas said.