A small newspaper death notice last Friday noted the death of Paul W. Hammack of Arlington, husband of the late Constance Thomas Hammack.
"In lieu of flowers," the notice said, "the family kindly suggests contributions to the American Cancer Society."
The next night, burglars broke into Hammack's North Arlington home and removed a color television, an antique Colt revolver, a radio and prescription drugs.
After an obituary appeared last Sunday for the lone occupant of another North Arlington home, burglars took silver, television sets and more prescription drugs in what police believe was a fruitless search for Dilaudid, a drug often prescribed as a painkiller for cancer victims.
On Monday afternoon, U.S. Park Police arrested a man and woman at the Washington Sailing Marina and charged them with possession of controlled substances -- about 10 vials of prescription drugs, including Valium and other barbiturates.
In the couple's 1978 blue Mercury Monarch, police said, was much of the property stolen from the two Arlington homes, the addresses of those homes written on pieces of paper and a copy of The Washington Post, turned to the obituary page.
Brian D. Gilbert, 28, is charged with two counts each of grand larceny and breaking and entering in the nighttime, in addition to the drug charges.
Mary E. Bistodeau, 29, also is charged with breaking and entering in the nighttime. Neither Gilbert nor Bistodeau has a fixed address, police said.
According to Arlington police, the method of the two burglaries lent a new twist to an old trick. Checking the obituaries to locate empty houses "is not a new method [for burglars]; it's been used before and probably will be used again," said Detective Henry Churchbourne.
But he said it is the first time he has seen the homes of cancer patients targeted in an apparent search for Dilaudid, a popular heroin substitute known as "D" or "K-4" that sells for about $40 per pill on the streets.
U.S. Park Police and District authorities have recently cracked down on illegal sales of the drug in the area near 11th and O streets NW.
"If [Dilaudid] is what they're looking for, they certainly know how people get it legally and can figure out how to get it illegally," said Sgt. Kenneth J. Madden of the Arlington burglary unit.
Police estimated that, in addition to the drugs, about $5,000 in property was taken from the Arlington homes.
Churchbourne said he is investigating a third burglary, reported Wednesday, that appears to share some characteristics with the other two: a television and microwave oven were taken from a North Arlington home in which the resident had recently died.
Gilbert is being held in Arlington County Detention Center on $8,500 bond; Bistodeau was released Tuesday on $1,000 bond.
Preliminary hearings for the two are scheduled for Sept. 9.