A Downey man is suspected of stealing a deceased woman’s ring while working for an Orange County company transporting her body earlier this year, authorities said Thursday.
Riverside Police Department detectives returned the ring to the woman’s family Thursday after an investigation revealed 27-year-old Mark Anthony Zuniga allegedly took the ring and pawned it somewhere in Los Angeles County, police said. Investigators arrested him on Tuesday.
An Orange County mortuary handled funeral arrangements for the woman after she died at a Riverside hospital on Sept. 24. Zuniga was working for an O.C.-based transport company contracted by the mortuary when he allegedly stole the ring from the woman’s body, according to police.
“It appears that he might’ve been by himself” at the time, Officer Ryan J. Railsback said.
Railsback said it’s also possible Zuniga stole the ring sometime immediately after arriving to the facility. “It could’ve been after-hours at the mortuary,” he said.
The ring was a gift from the woman’s husband, who gave it to her more than 50 years ago and is also deceased, Railsback said. “It was very important to them,” he said of the woman’s family.
Investigators tracked the theft to Zuniga using a database of pawned items, according to Railsback. Such databases are sometimes used by detectives investigating thefts given just how frequently stolen items surface in pawn shops, he said.
For several years, state laws have regulated pawn shops in this regard, from allowing law enforcement officials to seize pawned items believed to be stolen or having the contact information of theft victims mailed to shop owners so possessions can be returned.
Family members of the woman noticed her ring was missing from her ring finger just a few days after she was taken to the mortuary facility by Zuniga, according to police. The jewelry is believed to be worth several thousand dollars, police said.
Investigators booked Zuniga into Robert Presley Detention Center on suspicion of one count of removing articles from a dead body, which is a felony charge. Police said he was released on a “Notice to Appear” citation due to current bail schedules for non-violent offenses in the state.
Police said he was also fired from his job at the transport company.
No other details have been released by officials as the investigation continues.
Anyone with information can reach Detective Edward Vazquez at 951-353-7955 or EVazquez@RiversideCA.gov.
Those wishing to remain anonymous can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or use the Riverside Police Department’s mobile app “Submit at Tip” feature while referencing report number 200026696.