On Your Side: Squatters move in when homeowners are out

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Robert Slepin and his wife were out of town when burglars decided to break in and start living in their Carson City house last month. When he returned home, he got quite the surprise.

"When I came in, the living area was mostly bare and most of the other parts of the house were partially bare and the entire house was ransacked. Probably half to three-quarters of our possessions were gone. And the first reaction was shock," he said.

The criminals stole almost everything including priceless artwork, furniture, clothing and they even pulled the oven off of the wall. Slepin thinks the value of all the items they stole could be as much as $100,000. And while living there the crooks make themselves right at home.

"They were drinking our wine, they were doing some cooking as well," Slepin said.

Captain Brian Humphrey with the Carson City Sheriff's office said this case is unusual.

"This is completely different from what I've seen in the years of working here," Humphrey said.

Investigators say the squatters rented a moving truck to haul out the household items.

A gardner alerted Carson City Deputies to the break-in after he spotted a window pried open. Deputies were able to track down the four suspects thanks to all the evidence they left behind.

"Because they had stayed so long in the house, because they had cooked and used kitchen utensils and drank from different things, they left behind DNA and fingerprints throughout the entire house," said Humphrey.

Investigators found fingerprints all over the home. Receipts from local stores and surveillance video allowed deputies to identify four suspects: Jessica Brobst, Dylan Pettigrew, Dylan Sterling and Cameron Wellbrook.

That case is unique. Deputies and real estate agents say it's more common for squatters to break in to homes that are for sale.

"If you have a home that has the sign in front of it or the traditional realtor's locks on the doors, there's really strong signals there's nobody in the house and nobody's going to be around," said Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong.

Squatters targeted Vicki Guyton's house after she put it on the market last month.

"I was blown away. I thought these people were smart. They were smart," she said.

A man and woman broke in through a back window and started living in the house.

"The police think that maybe they got in with the last realtor," Guyton said.

The couple set up camp in her vacant house. They cooked in the kitchen, smoked in the house and slept in the bedroom. Guyton said her neighbor spotted them coming out of the house one day last month.

"My neighbor said 'what are you doing, that place is empty.'"

Guyton suspects the couple may have changed the locks on the doors. Her key wouldn't work anymore at the front door.

"It's mind-boggling how unsafe the situation could have been," Guyton said.

Weeks later deputies say they caught Joshua Martin and Kady Werlinger for Trespassing in another home. They're suspected of staying at Guyton's houses and others too.

Capt. Humphrey said one of the suspects told detectives they were not trying to damage any property, they just needed a place to stay.

"...stating they were homeless, reached hard times, had some addiction problems in the past and simple were trying to get out of the weather," Humphrey said.

Deputies say a couple of things can often prevent squatters from moving in: Get to know your neighbors to help keep an eye on the neighborhood. Let them know when you're out of town. Also, a security system could stop a burglar from coming in or at least provide evidence for police if you catch them on camera.

The Carson City Sheriff's Department Detectives want to know if these suspects are responsible for any other break-ins in the area. Call them at 775-887-2500 if you have any information.

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