OAKDALE (AP) — Authorities in Oakdale said they are searching for a man who is a person of interest in the theft of a gold crucifix necklace from a dead man's body that later turned up at a pawn shop.
The necklace belonged to 51-year-old Melvin Luiz, a Stanislaus County man and former Manteca resident who suddenly died from natural causes on Nov. 16, a day after he retired from the dairy industry his family and authorities said.
Oakdale Police Sgt. Ben Savage said Thursday they believe the necklace was stolen off Luiz's body on Nov. 18 while it was en route from the Stanislaus County coroner's office to a funeral home, likely by a mortuary transport service driver.
The necklace was later sold that same day to a pawn shop in Turlock for $380, Savage said.
"Everyone has to work for what they have, like why steal from somebody who's dead?" Luiz's daughter, Melissa Luiz, told KTXL-TV on Wednesday.
Savage said police have identified a 25-year-old man from Turlock as a person of interest. They say the man worked as a driver at the mortuary transport service in Modesto that handled the moving of Luiz's body last month. He has since been fired from his job and his whereabouts are unknown, Savage added.
The Turlock man also has been positively identified by the pawn shop owner as the man who sold him the necklace, Savage said.
He said a tip led police to locate the necklace, which is still at the pawn shop. Savage said the mortuary transport service owner has offered to pay for the necklace and return it to Luiz's family. "He's been willing from the get go to make it right for the family," Savage said.
Melissa Luiz said her family is thankful the necklace has been found and hopes an arrest is imminent.
"This was the last thing my dad had on him when he passed away," she said. "And we're already dealing with enough. And this is just wrong. In every single way it's wrong. And I think he needs to be held responsible for what he did."