A burglary suspect was critically wounded yesterday by one of two Montgomery County policemen hiding inside a Kensington home as part of a police stakeout aimed at ending a so-called wave of "obituary" burglaries.
The family that owned the house was away attending a funeral in New York publicized in advance in a death notice in The Washington Post, according to Montgomery County police. The method is a time-honored one that has increased in use in Montgomery County in recent months, prompting the unusual stakeout arrangement.
At 5:45 a.m. police said a van pulled up in front of 3315 Wake Dr., the home of Mrs. Frank W. Livingston, who had gone to the funeral of her husband.
The driver of the van allegedly got out attempted to enter through the back door before going around to the front, breaking a window and opening the front door.
A police spokesman said that the officer. The suspect cen identified himself as a police officer. The suspect crouched in the dark living-room of the home, prompting the officer to fire once, striking the suspect in the chest.
Police said the suspect, 46-year-old Robert E. Wechsler, of no fixed address, was rushed to Suburban Hospital, where a hospital spokeswoman said he was in critical condition yesterday. Wechsler, according to police, has been charged with burglary.
Corp. George G. Neville, who along with Corp. Fagles developed the scheme to capture "obituary burglars" said all 2 officers in the crimes against property section of the Montgomery County Police Department are part of the investigation into "obituary" burglaries.
"We had an extensive number of residential burglaries while people were out of town attending funerals said Neville. Criminals are looking at the funeral notices in local newspapers and getting the addresses of victim from telephone directories.
"We began contacting possible victims by calling them at funeral homes or talking to their friends and neighbors" after seeing funeral notices, Neville said. The police then obtain a key from the family and begin the wait. Friday night and yesterday morning, police had four such stakeouts in progress, including the one in Kensington.
"We were pretty sure the home was going to be hit because the burglar made several calls all throughout the evening to make sure the family was not home," said Neville.
According to Neville, the suspect arrested yesterday already had warrants out for his arrest for an unrelated "obituary burglary" that occurred Oct. 31. Neville said, he and his partner had tried to track down this particular suspect using ordinary investigaive techniques, but had to revert to this plan when the obituary burglaries continued to occur.
It was Jan. 12 when the death notice that led to the arrest of the suspect was printed in The Washington Post. The notice said the burial was going to be in Vestal Hill, N.Y.
Neville, who said the stakeouts have been operating on a 24-hour basis for the last two weeks, and Montgomery County police will continue the operation. Montgomery County police spokesman Phillip Caswell said yesterday that Cpl. Fagles was not suspended from duty after firing his weapon yesterday because a preliminary internal affairs investigation found he was justified in his action.
According to Caswell, there was an apparent justification for the shooting because in part, the victim was allegedly participation in a felony.