'Women, hide your jewelry,' says devastated River Club theft victim

rdymond@bradenton.comNovember 14, 2013 

MANATEE -- Many Manatee County residents have suffered home burglaries where perpetrators pry open a sliding glass door leading to the master bedroom and steal thousands of dollars worth of jewelry, cash, electronics and other items.

Few of those victims want to go public with their stories, perhaps because of embarrassment, or because it's just too painful, or they don't want any more attention.

But Patrica "PJ" McCaleb of River Club in East Manatee -- who according to a Manatee County Sheriff's Office report lost $40,000 worth of her jewelry in a burglary on Feb. 2 -- is different.

McCaleb wants to tell her story.

McCaleb especially wants women to hear her story.

McCaleb says she doesn't care about the $40,000. It's the priceless memories attached to many pieces that are now gone that fills her with constant sadness, she said.

She recently put up $5,000 of her own money toward a Manatee County Crime Stoppers reward that will be paid on any tip leading to a conviction in her case.

She urges women to have their homes evaluated by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office to see how accessible they are for thieves to slip in and out. She also begs women to hide their jewelry, including their costume pieces, somewhere in the house that is difficult to find.

"What I went through is a woman's worst nightmare," McCaleb said of the daylight theft in the 6100 block of Sonesta Court where she and her significant other, Ed Hechler, live together. The couple had gone to play golf, when the crime took place. The thieves took an ornate brown Italian jewelry box filled with items, as well as emptying the six drawers of a nearby jewelry case.

"I was truly violated," McCaleb said. "I lost jewelry given to me by people who had long ago died. It was like they had died again. They even took the pieces I wore with my everyday outfits. I could hardly breathe when I came in the room and saw my jewelry box was gone. It was traumatic. I tortured myself. 'Why did I leave my jewelry box out? Why didn't I put it away?' It's the fact that you know that all these pieces attached to precious memories will never be seen again."

The thieves took a brown plastic bag from McCaleb's closet and emptied all the drawers from her jewelry box and the six-drawer jewelry case next to it.

"I want women to know that there is no way in hell you can replace jewelry," McCaleb added. "I want women to know they must hide their jewelry whenever they go out. I am amazed there are so many robberies and people are not outraged and that we don't come together to catch these robbers. We must all start to be aware. It is very easy for robbers to watch our habits and rob us."

If it sounds like McCaleb is mad, she is.

Nearly every police report in her file, which concludes on April 15 with an "inactive" status, mentions that she is way beyond upset.

Despite trips to pawn shops in Manatee, Sarasota and Pinellas counties, McCaleb hasn't recovered even one piece of her jewelry.

The thieves took her late husband Lucky McCaleb's 1962 gold class ring from South High School in Columbus, Ohio, which McCaleb had melted down into a gold nugget after his death.

Also gone was her Egyptian medallion necklace that she had purchased in a Miami jewelry store in 1990 before she went on a cruise with a "bunch of girls."

Gone was her Aunt Ora's antique ring, with its little diamonds and, most painful, the small wedding rings that belonged to her mother and father,

Manatee County resident Elizabeth M. Sullivan had her jewelry stolen more than a year ago and got most of the pieces back through pawn shops. She says she understands what McCaleb is going through. The suspect in Sullivan's case was charged and it was someone she knew.

"I went through such a range of emotions one could have classified it as bipolar," Sullivan said. "You have to take that anger and energy and focus it on something positive. My positive was getting back the pieces that meant the most to me."

That's what McCaleb is trying to do, as well.

Ever since the crime, she has become her own version of Sherlock Holmes.

She has gone on crimemapping.com to research other crimes in her neighborhood. She discovered there have been eight thefts in nearby Braden Run in the past four months and several in River Club.

"You can go on crimemapping.com, and you can get alerts about robberies, break-ins, assaults in your surrounding area," McCaleb said. "I am getting those alerts. Most recently it has been car thefts. There is no fee."

She has canvassed her neighbors. She also is trying to track down the owner of a white van she saw on her way to the golf course that day, a van occupied by two males who seemed to be acting oddly.

For some reason even she can't explain, she remembered the letter U was in the fourth position of the license plate on the white van, but she can't remember the rest of the plate.

She hired a hypnotist but he was unsuccessful in helping her retrieve the rest of the plate.

McCaleb said that among the items taken from her home was a metal ball marker that clips on a hat for golf that said PJ on it, which might help someone realize they have seen the stolen goods.

"It's easy to put in a tip," McCaleb said of Crime Stoppers, which seems to be her best hope. "It's enough money to take a cruise for yourself, buy Christmas presents, pay off bills or make many house payments. Someone out there knows who did this to me. I beg them to help me. I want my things back."

Anyone who knows something about McCaleb's case can call the Manatee County Sheriff's Office at 941-747-3011 or Manatee County Crime Stoppers at 866-634-TIPS.

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