At first, nobody noticed jewelry was going missing.
Residents at The Lakes retirement community in Gig Harbor went about their daily lives — until Tyra Blaisdell, 76, found the handyman in her house.
It was April 3 when Russell Grover, who worked as a maintenance man for the community of 140 houses, twice rang the doorbell of Blaisdell’s home.
She didn’t answer. According to court records, Grover let himself in through the garage. Blaisdell demanded he leave, and he did.
“As word spread throughout the community, more residents began noticing missing items,” the court documents state.
TVs and tools also disappeared from homes, but it was the wedding and engagement rings, the class rings that brought back memories of youth, the family heirlooms carefully tucked away that were missed the most.
Grover, 33, was promptly fired and later charged with four counts of first-degree trafficking in stolen property and one count of residential burglary.
His longtime girlfriend, Adrienne Van Arsdale, 33, was charged with one count of first-degree trafficking in stolen property.
Investigators estimate the two stole more than $33,000 worth of jewelry during a 13-month span.
The victims ranged in age from 75 to 92.
The manager of The Lakes notified residents through a newsletter that Grover had been fired. Pierce County sheriff’s deputies started scouring pawn shops in Tacoma and Gig Harbor for the missing items.
Several stolen televisions and tools were tracked down through online sales.
An engagement ring that 77-year-old Ron Talley bought for his bride, Paula Stockbridge, was recovered two weeks before the couple tied the knot in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
Talley said Wednesday that residents of The Lakes knew Grover as a nice, especially helpful maintenance man.
“No one suspected him — he went above and beyond, and I think everyone felt that way,” Talley said, as Stockbridge showed her recovered ring to reporters.
“I don’t think anyone suspected him. He was part of the furniture.”
Talley and Stockbridge noticed the ring was missing during the winter: Stockbridge had been in and out of the hospital for knee surgery and left the ring at home during that time.
At first they thought they’d misplaced it, but eventually the couple called police to report the ring stolen. Luckily, Talley had taken a photo of the ring on his fiancee’s finger shortly after he proposed.
Within a couple of days, Talley said, a detective told them he thought he had a lead on the ring, and a day later he showed up with it in hand. It had been recovered from a pawn shop in Tacoma.
Stockbridge couldn’t slip it back on her finger just yet — the ring had to be kept in evidence for a time.
“They released it in time for us to get married in June,” Talley said.
As for the other stolen items, a 92-year-old woman had her $5,000 diamond anniversary band returned to her. But in most cases, the stolen jewelry has not been found.
Some of it was pawned.
“Many items were melted before they could be recovered by investigators,” sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said.
One item is still missing — a gold and pearl cross from a rosary that came to the United States on one of the last boats through immigration at Ellis Island, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
Prosecutors said victims are “still coming out of the woodwork,” and they expect to file more charges against Grover and Van Arsdale. Warrants have been issued for both.
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653
Anyone with information on the whereabouts of suspects Russell Grover and Adrienne Van Arsdale is asked to call Tacoma-Pierce County Crime Stoppers at 800-222-TIPS (8477).
Grover is described as 5 feet 8 and 155 pounds with brown hair and hazel eyes. Van Arsdale is 5 feet 1 and 120 pounds with brown hair and hazel eyes.