A former homecare worker says it was a cocaine addiction that launched her into a crime spree in which she preyed on elderly victims.
The victims let Debbie Ann Smith into their homes when she asked for directions and to use the washroom. She left with their purses and wallets.
“These are women who let her in. They opened up their hearts and their homes to Ms. Smith in order to help someone out, and she violated that trust,” Crown attorney Ron Toews said as Smith was sentenced to jail this week.
Smith was arrested in September 2013, following a crime spree in which she talked her way into numerous homes in the Russell, Foxwarren and St. Lazare areas and sneaked off with purses or their contents.
Caught for that crime, she was released on bail only to commit purse snatchings in Brandon.
The case came to an end on Monday, when the 51-year-old was sentenced for 16 charges for the Russell-area incidents — 12 for break, enter and theft, three for break and enter with intent to commit a crime, and one theft charge.
Those crimes — committed between Aug. 1, 2013 and Sept. 22, 2013 — count as break and enters even though Smith tricked residents into letting her in.
RCMP said several of the 16 victims were elderly.
At the time, Smith was a homecare worker from Binscarth who had been in that field for more than 10 years. Court documents suggest she worked for Prairie Mountain Health, but the health authority wouldn’t confirm or deny that on Wednesday.
Smith would later tell police that she simply looked for homes that looked like they had older people living in them. She would leave if she found young people living there.
According to police reports, however, Smith’s employment played a role in her offending.
Although not convicted of it, police say she was accused of stealing a purse from one of her homecare clients in August 2012.
At least a couple of the victims in the Russell-area crimes of which she was convicted had received homecare. The reports suggest Smith used her employment to target at least two of them.
One victim kept a hidden key to her Foxwarren home that is believed to have been used by Smith to get in to steal a purse. The only people other than family who knew the location of that key were homecare staff, although Smith wasn’t known to the victim.
In a second case, Smith went to the home of her Binscarth neighbour, a homecare client, on the pretence of cooking for her. That case was reported to police by the homecare supervisor.
On other occasions, Smith used a ruse to get into the home. More than once, for example, she knocked on the door and asked for directions and then asked to use the washroom.
In one case in St. Lazare, she knocked on a victim’s unlocked door and then walked in and asked for directions. She then asked to use the washroom and, while the victim was distracted, took money from the victim’s purse before leaving.
Smith used the same ploy in Russell where she walked into a house and asked for directions. When the victim’s dog ran out and the owner tried to retrieve it, Smith grabbed her wallet from a table next to the door and left.
On one occasion, Smith waited for a woman to return to her Russell home in the dark, then snatched her purse, which contained more than $100 and credit cards.
Smith later told authorities she would only keep cash from the purses, but many didn’t contain money and she’d toss them away.
She was out on bail when she was identified as the suspect in a series of four purse-snatchings and two attempted purse-snatchings committed in Brandon between Nov. 29 and Jan. 4.
In five cases, women had their purses grabbed in the parking lots of city stores. Three of the victims were elderly — aged 67, 73 and 78.
Smith, pleaded guilty to three of these incidents.
In one case, she pushed down a 47-year-old woman in a grocery store parking lot and stole her purse. In another, she grabbed the purse of a 67-year-old woman who was loading groceries into her car. Combined, the purses held $850.
Smith also tried to steal a 73-year-old woman’s purse but was foiled when the senior resisted and was helped by a bystander.
For these offences, Smith was arrested at a Brandon home on Jan. 7 and has been in custody since.
She told authorities cocaine addiction was her motive. Her work hours had been cut and she couldn’t afford the cocaine or her anti-depressant medication.
“She says it would cost her anywhere from $20 to $100 per day,” Smith’s lawyer, Bob Harrison, said of his client’s cocaine use. “She made a bad decision to get money to support her addiction.”
Smith — who suffered abuse growing up, and whose childhood home was filled with violence — said cocaine made her feel happy and fearless.
Judge John Combs gave Smith pre-sentence custody credit by sentencing her to time served of eight-and-a-half months for the Russell-area incidents.
He then sent Smith to jail for another year for the Brandon incidents, to be followed by two years of probation.
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