Woman Charged in Painted Cave Mail Thefts
Community Installed Camera to Catch a Thief
Painted Cave residents have picked up something like 150 pounds of mail strewn behind trees and dumped over the side of the road, originally delivered to areas that span from Camarillo to Toro Canyon and Montecito. Their mail had been disappearing since November. Since their complaints were getting them nowhere, they decided to install a camera to capture the nocturnal thief. Melissa Wheeler of Santa Paula was arrested on March 3 up at Painted Cave on charges of stealing the mail and packages in her car, as well as possession of methamphetamine, the Sheriff’s Office reported.
A mountain community with its own radio signal and volunteer fire department, Painted Cave residents banded together to install and monitor the video feed. They also collected Nextdoor and media reports about mail thefts, documenting a growing scourge. When their camera captured a thief in the act at 2 a.m. on March 3, they called Sheriff’s dispatch.
Jessica Tunney, a Painted Cave resident, said their mailbox doors would be found hanging open in the morning, but they noticed a lull when the 101 and East Camino Cielo closed due to the mudslide. The addresses on the mail they had returned to the San Roque post office coincided with the evacuation zones.
Residents of the West Camino Cielo, Rosario Park, and Paradise Road communities have also been hit, Tunney said, and also those along Stagecoach and Kinevan roads. The recent arrest only caught one person, she noted, and others are committing similar crimes. Their mail carrier recently found that the packages he’d just delivered on Paradise Road were missing or opened, she said. He’d thought a car that roared past him on the road seemed suspicious and had gone back to check.
The mail and packages in Wheeler’s car had come from Painted Cave, Montecito, Mission Canyon, West Camino Cielo, and Foothill areas. They are being returned to their owners, the Sheriff’s Office said, which advised residents use locked mailboxes and pick up their mail daily. Wheeler, who is 41, is being held on $50,000 bail.