Rest home jewellery theft 'despicable'

LANE NICHOLS
Last updated 05:00 06/08/2012

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Relatives of a 91-year-old rest home resident whose jewellery was allegedly stolen by her caregiver have labelled the disappearance "despicable".

Juan Paulo Castro Villanueva, 26, was arrested last week on one count of theft by a person in a special relationship, but is likely to face more charges.

Police allege he stole jewellery from at least four residents at Shona McFarlane retirement village, two of whom are now dead.

It is understood the offending was picked up only when a family member spotted their elderly relative's missing ring in a Cash Converters store and alerted police.

One of the victims, Violet Grigg, died in June last year, aged 91. When she died, grieving family discovered her sapphire and diamond engagement ring and gold chain had disappeared, a relative said. A string of pearls is also thought to have gone missing.

The relative recalls seeing the chain on Mrs Grigg a week before she died and said the family was unsure whether the jewellery went missing before or after her death.

"I don't know whether she was left on her own after she died. It could have disappeared then.

"I think [it] is despicable."

The family complained to the home about the missing jewellery.

"They didn't say to us, ‘We've had others.' They just said, ‘Sorry, we've questioned staff. Nothing more we can do.' There was no offer of compensation."

The ring was probably worth several thousand dollars, the relative said. "Money is not the issue. This was a precious heirloom that would have gone to her granddaughter."

Another alleged victim is Dorothy Gee. Son Brian Gee said his 91-year-old mother adored Villanueva.

"She really held this guy in high regard. While he was working there, he looked after her."

The family believed a gold bracelet or necklace had gone missing. "They do make it clear that whatever you take in there, just be wary. But she worked all her life for that [jewellery] and to take it away from her, it's hardly fair."

Mr Gee said his mother and the wider family were "most surprised" to hear of Villanueva's arrest. "He was an all right sort of guy."

Mrs Gee is still a resident at Shona McFarlane. The home's parent company, Ryman Healthcare, has welcomed the arrest and plans to contact families about the missing jewellery.

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- The Dominion Post

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