A husband and wife face federal mail theft charges after going through dozens of South Anchorage mailboxes looking for greeting cards with cash to feed their heroin addiction, according to charging documents filed in U.S. District Court in Anchorage.
While investigating reports of tampered mail in Hillside neighborhoods, a police officer spotted a car early Sunday that matched descriptions of a suspect vehicle provided by witnesses, the charges say. Officers found stolen letters and packages inside and arrested the couple, James and Melody Jane Baehm.
State court records show theft cases have landed James, 47, and Melody, 41, in court several times in 2013.
According to the latest charges, written by a United States postal inspector and filed in federal court Monday, this is what happened in the case last weekend:
Police officers were on the lookout for a small black sedan that had been seen near mailboxes with letters on the ground next to them. Officer Karen Och saw the car at Abbott Road and Spring Hill Drive and stopped it.
As Och approached the car, she saw packages in the backseat and called for backup. There were more letters and packages at Melody's feet. James said the mail belonged to Melody.
"Officer Och asked to see the mail. James handed her four separate parcels and she observed that they were addressed to people other than the occupants of the vehicle," the charges say.
Another officer arrived and took James into custody while Och put Melody in handcuffs and started interviewing her.
At first, Melody said they found the mail in the trunk of the car, which they had rented. Then, in the patrol car, Melody said she was sleeping when they were pulled over, and James poked her and shoved a handful of letters into her lap.
"Melody stated that at one point during the night she had woken up in the car to find her husband gone. She stated that they were parked in a wooded area and that when James returned to the vehicle he told her he was 'checking the mail,' " the charges say. "Melody admitted to using heroin and that she was presently crashing. Melody stated that her husband James had suggested they go up on Hillside and 'check mail' in order to obtain money for drugs."
She also mentioned they had been at the Holiday gas station on Huffman Road to buy bottled water and other things. Officers later found a bag of mail in a trash bin there.
About 10 a.m. Sunday, two postal inspectors interviewed James while he was in custody. He admitted to stealing the mail and guessed that he had looked in about 80 mailboxes, according to the charges.
"James stated that he took all mail out of any mailbox that had mail in it but that they were primarily interested in going through greeting cards with the hope of finding cash or gift cards," the charges say.
They left some of the mail next to the mailboxes, James said. Melody had helped him sort through it until she fell asleep, he said. Their take was $20 cash and three or four gift cards.
James Baehm pleaded guilty to state theft charges twice in 2013 -- once in February and again in March -- and has two open theft cases from charges in May and October. Melody Baehm also pleaded guilty in the March case and is charged with her husband in the May and October cases.
By CASEY GROVE