Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Senior unofficially deputized after catching thief on spy-cam

Granny's got her eyes on you

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Viola Dufresne shows off her spy-cam hidden in a digital clock. The 82- year-old used the device to catch a care worker who was stealing from her.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Viola Dufresne shows off her spy-cam hidden in a digital clock. The 82- year-old used the device to catch a care worker who was stealing from her. Photo Store

It's a case Matlock would love -- and it comes courtesy of a feisty new sheriff in town who's armed with a suspicious eye, a video camera and a sharp sense of wit.

Viola Dufresne, 82, suspected for months she was being ripped off but had no idea how, or by whom. So the Winnipeg senior turned to the Internet, bought a secret spy-cam and ended up catching the culprit in the act.

It was her provincial home-care worker.

"She was robbing me blind," Dufresne told the Free Press on Friday. The great-grandmother recalled the stunned look on the face of police officers when she handed them a copy of the videotaped evidence last summer.

"I think at first they were just expecting a silly little old lady. Well, I am silly. And I am old. But I told them 'You sit there' and I played it for them. They said 'You've got it!' " said Dufresne.

She said police were so impressed with her efforts they even gave her a plastic "badge" to make her an unofficial part of the force.

Myrna Jacqueline McDougall has now pleaded guilty to theft under $5,000 and will be sentenced in provincial court next Monday. She was fired from her job of 18 years following her arrest last year.

'Oh my God, it was so good. She bit. I set it up real good. People don't think us (older folks) have brains'

-- Viola Dufresne, 82

"You wonder how many other seniors are affected by this type of crime." Dufresne's daughter, Joretta Robidioux, said Friday. She's proud of her mother for trusting her instincts and pursuing the truth and hopes others will be inspired by the story.

Justice officials say they've never seen a case quite like this, where someone of the victim's age essentially launched their own successful investigation.

The video is expected to be played in court. It shows McDougall reaching into Dufresne's purse and taking approximately $25.

"Oh my God, it was so good. She bit. I set it up real good," said Dufresne. "People don't think us (older folks) have brains."

Dufresne said the trouble began when she was discharged from hospital in early 2013 after having surgery on her legs. She was living at the Sturgeon Creek Retirement Residence but needed daily home care because her husband was very ill and had just moved to a care home.

McDougall, who was not an employee of the residence, began dropping by daily, usually between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. 

"She was a good worker, a nice conversationalist," said Dufresne. "I figured someone must have a key and be coming in. I never suspected her."

But cameras don't lie. And police were struggling to do much when Dufresne first contacted them to say she believed money had gone missing. One young officer mentioned how a friend of his had set up surveillance to catch thieves breaking into his cottage.

So Dufresne went home, did some online research and spotted quite the deal: a $500 spy-cam, designed to look like a clock radio, on sale for $250.

A few mouse clicks later and it was on its way. Days later, the camera arrived, but Dufresne couldn't get it working. It was broken.

"I thought it was a scam," said Dufresne.

She sent it back, this time to a Canadian distributor for the company, and they eventually replaced it. Dufresne then spent a few hours on the phone with a technician in Niagara Falls as she set up the camera to ensure it was working.

"I did rehearsals with it for a few days," she said, noting it was pointed directly at the doorway where she'd park her scooter and hang her purse and coat. "You'd never know it was there."

Once in place last June, Dufresne began finding excuses to leave McDougall alone in her room for extended periods of time. She would often linger in the bathroom, saying she needed extra time to do her hair or makeup. In reality, she was setting the trap.

"I'm not a dumb bunny," she said Friday. The proverbial "smoking gun" came on day five.

Dufresne is now planning to attend McDougall's sentencing but doesn't have anything to say to the woman who violated her trust.

"I don't talk to crooks. And she's a crook," she said.

Dufresne has spent the past few months in hospital dealing with various ailments and is still mourning the recent death of her husband.

She said this theft has added extra stress to her life.

"Honesty is first with me. I've never taken a penny from anyone," she said.

Dufresne now has a new home-care worker but vows to remain vigilant.

"I've got eyes on you," she said.

www.mikeoncrime.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 24, 2014 A3

History

Updated on Saturday, May 24, 2014 at 2:46 PM CDT: McDougall was not an employee of ‎ Sturgeon Creek Retirement Residence.

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