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Burglary Victims Reunited With Treasures of the Past

Times Staff Writer

After months of waiting, it was time for a handful of burglary victims to reclaim the past.

So last week they came to a 13-by-9-foot basement cubicle at police headquarters in downtown Los Angeles to pore over jewelry, silverware and other valuables that prosecutors no longer needed as evidence to try members of a Gypsy theft ring that allegedly preyed mostly on the elderly.

“Those cameos were a wedding present,” said Cynthia Strathmann, 76, of Claremont, clutching item No. 495. What bureaucracy labeled No. 473, she knew as her mother-in-law’s diamond-and-pearl pin.

Kenneth and Juanita Spunaugle of Culver City were also on hand to pick up their jewelry. The 75-year-old retired baker recalled that he was pruning his avocado tree last March when a burglar made a pass through his home.

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Detective Arthur Kagele said the story was typical--the burglars scouted a neighborhood for elderly people who left their homes unsecured, usually while gardening.

Ultimately, city and county agencies joined forces to crack the ring. In March, officers arrested a clan of nomads they said were responsible. To date, 16 of the 20 defendants have pleaded guilty in Pasadena Superior Court.

Burglary victim Alice Baker of Claremont, a retired elementary schoolteacher, said she never expected to get her rings back.

About half of the recovered keepsakes remain to be claimed from numbered plastic bags in the basement at Parker Center.

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