Detectives investigating the case of a Columbus woman who allegedly stole thousands of items from assisted living facilities were not expecting the amount of evidence they found when they executed a search warrant at the woman’s home in March.
When detectives obtained a warrant to search the home of 55-year-old Columbus resident Susan Gwynne on March 26, they only knew of two victims, according to Tracy Whited, head of community and media relations at the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office.
During the raid on Gwynne’s home, detectives were surprised to find more than 3,000 items — mostly jewelry. The items were recovered and taken into evidence.
During Gwynne’s arraignment last month, Delaware County Prosecutor Carol O’Brien said that Gwynne “preys on vulnerability … I believe she is a true menace to people.”
Since the search at the home at 5540 Ravine Bluff Court, Columbus, the number of victims has risen to at least 31 from more than a dozen assisted living facilities in Franklin and Delaware counties. Gwynne, a former nurse’s aide, is believed to have posed as a worker at the facilities in order to gain access to clients’ rooms. While they were out of the rooms, authorities believe she would enter rooms and steal jewelry, credit cards and cash. Authorities say they also suspect Gwynne has been committing these crimes for eight years.
At the arraignment, O’Brien urged Delaware County Common Pleas Judge David Gormley to set a high bond. “We believe if she remains out she will continue to victimize the elderly,” O’Brien said.
However, Gwynne was not arrested and no charges were filed against her until 11½ weeks after the raid on her home, when a Delaware County grand jury issued a 101-count indictment against Gwynne. She turned herself in to Columbus police the day after the indictments and an arrest warrant were issued.
Whited said that, during the 11½ weeks, detectives from the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office and Columbus police had to sort through all of the evidence and attempt to identify to whom the items belong and approximate dates for when they were stolen.
“The more organized case, the more successful indictment you are going to have,” Whited said.
In explaining why authorities waited 11½ weeks to arrest Gwynne, Whited explained that the sheriff’s office couldn’t simply take the first victims to the grand jury and charge Gwynne at the start of the investigation because if investigators wanted to add charges to the case, based on new victims or evidence, they would have to re-present the entire case again.
“It’s basically a new case,” Whited said, adding that new charges would push back court dates. “We didn’t want to keep hitting rewind. We didn’t want the taxpayers to have to go through the whole thing again and again.”
Another factor to consider, according to Whited, was Gwynne’s constitutional right to a speedy trial, which guarantees Gwynne must stand trial within 90 days of her arrest. Whited said that if authorities took the case too early, they wouldn’t be able to get all the evidence from the victims who kept coming forward.
“Our detectives have to walk a fine line,” Whited said. “Everyone wants justice but we have to be cautious that we don’t jump the gun and ruin someone’s chance for justice.”
At Gwynne’s arraignment in Delaware County Common Pleas Court on June 24, O’Brien said that between the search warrant’s execution and Gwynne’s arrest, Gwynne had pawned several items at pawn shops in Columbus and Dayton. O’Brien said items were recovered after they had been pawned.
“It’s always a risk when you take time to build your case,” Whited said. “If she is found guilty, I think we’ll be glad we waited to present the case.”
Prosecutors said most of the crime scenes are in Franklin County. The Delaware County assisted living facilities affected were The Inn at Olentangy Trail and Abbington of Powell, located at 3971 Bradford Road, Powell.
An investigation of the stolen jewelry began after deputies received a call in January regarding a theft from an elderly woman living at The Inn at Olentangy Trail, located at 6 Corduroy Road, Delaware.
Prosecutors said the indictment lists 31 victims who are in their 70s, 80s and 90s. The oldest victim is 101 years old. O’Brien said after the arraignment that because of the scale of the case and the number of victims, it may be possible that more charges are filed later.
The indictment alleges that Gwynne has been stealing from victims since April 2008. The last theft was in March 2016, court documents indicate. Whited said that investigators learned of the older crimes while investigating the 2016 thefts when they called local assisted living facilities to ask them if they had any thefts that might be connected to Gwynne and the facilities reported instances going back nearly a decade.
If Gwynne is released from jail, a condition of her bail stipulates that she is prohibited from visiting assisted living facilities and local pawn shops.
Gwynne is now in the Delaware County Jail and is scheduled to stand trial on Aug. 14. Gwynne’s bond has been set at $150,000.
Whited said they were led to Gwynne after the sheriff’s office posted a surveillance photo from one of the assisted living facilities on Facebook and a caller reported Gwynne’s name.
Gwynne is charged with 31 counts of burglary, which are second-degree felonies; 43 felony counts of theft; 12 counts of possessing criminal tools, which are fifth-degree felonies; and 15 counts of receiving stolen property, which are first-degree misdemeanors.
Delaware County Sheriff Russell Martin said he’s proud of the work detective Christy Burke has done in the case.
“I’m extremely proud of the work ethic of Detective Burke,” Martin said. “She did an outstanding job with a complex case.”
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.