By Casey Nolen
St. Charles County, MO (KSDK) - Thieves have found a new way to burglarize homes by simply walking through the front door of an open house, a real estate open house. And, they are not looking for jewelry or money, but drugs.
With 27 years of real estate experience, realtor Dave Guempel with Coldwell Banker Gundaker knows the value of hosting an open house, and the challenges of opening a home to multiple people at one time.
"As a realtor you basically making sure you standing guard at the door," said Guempel. "It's just me."
Which Dave says is no problem most of the time. But this past September he witnessed a new twist on an old concern: thieves posing as potential home buyers looking for an easy target.
"I recognized him. And when I recognized him, I kept a close eye on him. And when I kept a close eye on him I actually caught him pilfering through a draw in a master bathroom," recalled Guempel.
He says the man he recognized he remembered from a previous open house where prescription drugs went missing after the showing.
This time, Guempel believes he caught the thief in the act.
"I could see him going through the bottles, and I could see more than he thought I could see," Guempel said.
He asked the man to leave and called police.
"I think the creativity comes with the desperation of addiction," said Dan Duncan with the St. Louis office of the National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse.
With prescription drugs going for $30 to $65 per pill on the street, Duncan says this real estate rouse is no surprise. It's a crime he's seen in the St. Louis region for the past few years.
"You've got to keep in mind these prescription pain killers are very similar to heroine. And so this is a very strong gripping addiction," Duncan said. "They're going to go wherever they can and do whatever they have to do to get their hands on it."
Police in O'Fallon, Missouri, where the alleged theft took place, won't comment on the case except to say there is an ongoing investigation into several similar incidents and they are working with other departments. So far, no charges, but definitely changes says Guempel, when it comes to how he runs an open house.
"You know I used to warn folks when I listed a house. It was just jewelry and valuables now I've got to say prescription medication," Guempel said.
In addition to locking away all prescription drugs, realtors say they are also warning clients to secure any valuable information that could be used for identity theft.