Open houses become open target for jewelry thief

FRESNO, Calif.

Police arrested Janet Barnes this week, accusing her of committing as many as 20 burglaries at open houses and other homes for sale.

Sheriff's investigators tracked crimes at open houses for two months before they finally found the suspect, not long after a victim chased her from an open house.

This spacious horse ranch east of Fresno is for sale. It's about 20 acres, with a 2900 square foot home in the middle of the property, and it's been on the market for a couple years now, so the sisters who own it got aggressive to sell it.

"We were holding regular open houses which is how this drama started," said Diane Yensen.

Yensen's drama dates back to an open house in February, when police believe Janet Barnes first toured the house.

"Somewhere through that tour, she found my jewelry and took it all," Yensen said. "My wedding ring, all kinds of heirloom jewelry from my mother, my mother's wedding ring, all my really good jewelry."

Police believe Barnes is a serial burglar who looked at "For Sale" signs as opportunities, stealing jewelry from inside many of the homes.

Realtors say they gradually figured out she was making her way to open houses all over the Fresno and Clovis area, using the internet to scout potential victims at owner-occupied homes for sale.

"[She] would see which ones looked the most attractive and which one appeared to be better quality furniture and potentially upscale jewelry," said Jim Whitlach, the president of the Fresno Association of Realtors.

Realtors put out an alert to look for Barnes, and tried to gather evidence against her. But despite their best efforts, police say Barnes struck again at Yensen's home, stealing a fake diamond pendant.

"I honestly thought I might be losing my mind because there was really nothing left except for costume jewelry," Yensen said. "But I could tell things were gone again."

And a search warrant shows Barnes made yet another trip to Yensen's ranch. That's when Yensen's husband chased the woman away and got her license plate, helping to lead investigators to Barnes.

When police finally caught Barnes, they found several pieces of jewelry reported missing from open houses. But many more have disappeared, possibly forever.

This week, Barnes was charged with five burglaries, but she made bail and she's out in the community again now.

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